Got ahead of myself by writing about Nepal when there a couple of stories I want to tell about my time in Rajasthan, a western state of India. We stayed in this great little guest house run by a charming ex military man, Arvind, and his wife. Arvind would sit on his second floor verandah, savouring a chain of cigarettes and watching the distant action on the road up ahead. He’d inquire about us and make some astute observations about his own culture, too. His place is called The Explorer’s Nest and it occurred to me later that that could actually be a reference to him, and not his guests. I see him as a modern day explorer, treking into the nether regions of India, but also embarking on mini adventures in conversation with the people who set foot in his pad.

He told some great stories, too. One was about the Nawaazes (am guessing at the spelling), a once high but now extinct level of Indian society that he likened to British Lords. Nawaazes owned hills and hills of land, but sat around doing very few, often peculiar activities, like pigeon duels. Much like the cowboy tradition of shootouts at dawn, one Nawaaz would arrange to meet another Nawaaz at a set time. They would bring their pigeons, in equal numbers. These were domesticated, highly trained birds that upon command would fly into the air and mingle with their counterparts. After a few minutes, the pigeons would be summoned back by their masters. Whoever succeeded in having more birds fly back to him was deemed the winner for having more powerful pigeons, skilled in the art of recruitment. Then they would diss each other in flowery, artistrocatic language and be on their way.

Arvind also told a story that sought to make sense of this thing called “the soul”, a topic of much debate among friends before I left Canada. On one of his treks into northern India, he met and chatted with a yogi about his soul. What is this soul, where do I find it, he asked. Then the yogi asked him a few questions: if you cut off your right arm, are you still Arvind? Yes, he replied. And what about your left arm? Yes, again. What if you cut off your feet, your hair, your legs? When do you cease to be yourself? Arvind took it as a roadmap to help him understand his soul, and that the body with which we are graced is merely luggage.




The lights are out in Kathmandu. Not sure if it’s across the city, but in the Thamel neighbourhood where we’re staying the Internet cafes are running on generators and tourists are shopping by candlelight. Kathmandu is a large mountain city, about 1400 metres elevation, but Thamel feels like a little beach town. I keep expecting to see water around the corner. The weather is mountain perfect — hot by day, cool after dark. Alex and I took a drive up to Shivapuri National Park that is just 12 kilometres — or one hour away. There’s loads of traffic, but I think the issue is poor infrastructure. Streets are as clogged as in Delhi, and it’s mostly on single lane roads that can’t seem to handle the million who live here. Nice way to peruse the city, though, in the back seat of a car. I noticed that the architecture doesn’t really seem to make sense, if uniformity is something that does. The buildings resemble a Buddhist temple, with its staircase of roofs that get smaller as they climbs. It was really nice to get out of the city — any city. Traveling India has been a bit exhausting for both of us, I think, and the drive up the mountain, and then the three hour trek on foot further up, was fresh. I could hear the birds. And myself panting.

On the walk down from the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Since three is a crowd.. why not also a traffic jam?

On the walk down from the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Since three is a crowd.. why not also a traffic jam?

But to see to it, you have to walk the gauntlet of “touts” — men and women and children hawking anything you can imagine on the path leading to the Taj Mahal. They’re pretty aggressive, bringing the price down with every passing step, offering rides on camel, horse or rickshaw, even a guided tour of the main attraction. Hard to say whether it’s a good idea or not to pass up on the tours — truth be told, you get so sick of the never ending pitch to purchase something that NO becomes a bit of a trigger reaction. But really, who needs words.. just staring at the Taj is amazing enough for me. It holds the remains of a Mughal queen, who died while giving birth to her 14th child. The death devastated her king so much he set out to build this unbelievable marble mausoleum, which is bigger than you think, even whiter up close. I think it’s more impressive on the outside, although there are several rooms (wonder why?) and the floor tiles have interlocking designs. You’re not supposed to take pictures of the queen’s tomb, and these old guards kept pushing their way through the crowds, blowing their whistles like referees calling an off side. Too slow for nimble hands and mobile cameras; the flashes went off unabashedly. Afterwards, Alex and I joined the masses on the cool back porch, under the shade of that towering dome, and I watched families dote on these little girls with shaved heads and dark eyeliner smudged around their eyes.



These two old fellas took us for a 45 minute rickshaw ride over the river and to the back side of the Taj Mahal. Amazed we -- but mostly they -- made it! It's a lovely back side. (Kids on camel unrelated to rickshaw story.)

These two old fellas took us for a 45 minute rickshaw ride over the river and to the back side of the Taj Mahal. Amazed we -- but mostly they -- made it! It's a lovely back side. (Kids on camel unrelated to rickshaw story.)

Alex is here!


Brother comes for a visit and we head almost immediately to the Taj Mahal…



A quiet place.


I think one of the first tips I got from a fellow foreigner here was go to Lodhi Gardens to get away from the noise. It is an oasis. Given that, it’s kinda crazy that it took me this long to walk this place. The gardens are maybe a 10 minute rickshaw ride from where I live, and I’ve actually gone by it a few times, peered past the forest of leaves and at those columns of palm tress you’ll see in the first pic below. They form a circular perimeter around this, one of several octagonal or square based tombs. The deeper you go into the park, the less it feels like Delhi. There had been a sprinkle of rain this day, and a pleasant breeze rustled the leaves. Could have rocked me to sleep, but I climbed the old steps of one of the domed tombs instead. A shaft of light through one of the windows illuminated particles of dust. There were seven graves. India doesn’t know who is buried here, but it surmises from the grandiosity of their final resting place that he or she must have been important.


I think Hindi is so pretty.

I think Hindi is so pretty.




Twitter India


In the spirit of Twitter, here are a selection of Indian snapshots from the last few weeks, all 140 characters or less. I scribbled some down in my Moleskine, others I see so often they’re permanently imprinted in my memory.

I think saris are shields that women, like my maid, pull over their heads when talking to someone of a higher caste. Or a man.
A rickshaw driver — the human powered kind — told me he makes 100 rupees a day. Renting the rickshaw costs 45. Profit: $1.25
The fruit vendor and I are on a smile and wave basis.
It rained today! I can breathe again.
The ice cream cart also sells processed cheese.
Found salad dressing. It costs the same as a nice dinner out.
I live next to Butterflies.
Speaking English with an Indian accent helps you to be understood.
Poor village women who cannot afford jewelry have it tattooed on their wrists and around their necks.
Chai MEANS tea.
Spotted on my run today, Indian hipster wearing cowboy boots under her bustled sari.
I run on the left side here.
There is one woman auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi. One.
I live at U3. U as in umbrella, not unicorn.
Stuff here can be sweet AND salty. Lime Soda, for example. And a sponge cake dessert that I think was called Doodh Pak.
If a vendor doesn’t have enough small change, I’ll get candy. Like today: 3 little Cadbury eclairs instead of 3 rupees. I obviously win.

In no particular order.

1. The fresh naan that I buy from the market around my house is wrapped in aluminum foil, instead of newspaper.
2. I always pay more on the auto-rickshaw. I’d say on average 50% more than a ride should be.
3. This two-tiered price scheme is also sanctioned by the state. As a foreigner, the government says I pay 100 rupees to climb the stairs of the Charminar, a tourist attraction. Indians pay 10. So it goes.
3. Everyone assumes I don’t like spicy food.
4. I get away with things that some Indian women would not. Like sharing a flat with a guy. That’s a no go for an Indian woman, my neighbours have suggested (although it is changing). But since I’m not from here, I think they consider my behaviour amusing and, even, excusable.
5. At the top of the Charminar, in Hyderabad, I was suddenly surrounded by groups of young engineering students, all men, all wanting to take my picture. I asked, why? Because you come from somewhere else, one said. It was a bit weird to suddenly realize that people all around me were taking my picture on their mobile cameras.
6. I am a magnet for beggars. Little, little children. Mothers with one arm carrying a baby, the other reaching out. Sometimes there are books or magazines for sale, in which case the merchandise is thrust into the back of the auto-rickshaw. The sales children smile, call me Mme.
7. The security guard at the supermarket lets me go inside with my bag, instead of checking it outside.

To be continued.

Lunch with Mary


Check out my friend’s cool blog, Lunch with Mary, in which she takes out to lunch people who can teach her a thing or two. Such a great idea!