Saturday, August 26, 2006

kerala & burma

Originally uploaded by steyock.
this month's photo uploads include burma and the indian state of kerala.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


camel safari in the thar desert
Originally uploaded by steyock.
i've added (and will continue to add) a bunch of photos to flickr. please have a look.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

ah, the memories

Originally uploaded by wondersalve.
sitting in the office on a sunday, browing through my trip photos, i question the wisdom of having returned.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

goat love and terror

[from early may, starting in dharamsala...]

i enjoyed my guide-less travel around gangotri, so why not try it again? one reason might be the repeated warnings from would be guides that doing so would be "impossible". ignoring them, i set off from dharamsala guideless, porterless and yakless.

i was at the mercy of strangers to point me in the right direction. there were no maps and no signs. sorting through the confusion, i made it to the friendly village of noddi where amused and confused locals forced me to take their pictures.

villagers from noddi 
villagers from noddi 

the day's goal, kareri village, was still another 14km away.

things got a bit more complicated once i left any semblance of civilization. taking someone's advice to "follow the only trail", i apparently still managed to pick the wrong "only trail". seeing no one for 2 hours, i finally bushwhacked my way to a secluded mountainside hut, even though the deliverence theme song kept playing in my head. fortunately india is a bit safer than backwoods america as the friendly family offered me lunch rather than love. but they apparently had no idea where kareri was, as far as i could tell (they spoke no english). not a good sign.

i decided i'd better turn back. after an unproductive 5 hours, i ended up spending the night in back in noddi. i dismissed the would-be guide who came to my room offering his overpriced services, instead getting crappy directions from the owner of the guest house. of course he did not tell me they were crappy.

trails in the mountains are a mess. wide trails often go nowhere, while narrow trails might well be the correct ones. this, i suspect, is due to herds of sheep and goats heading to the same dining spots time and again. backtracking made progress slow.


i finally found a tiny town and a tea stall, where a kid (17-ish) from kareri offered his guide services for 100 rupees a day--a steal. i swallowed my pride and took him up on it. after an extremely steep climb we reached kareri, a fairly large village (maybe 100 families?) considering there are no roads to it. we rested on the front porch of his house, while his family abused their mules and "processed" stalks of wheat that they must've grown somewhere nearby. no one in the family was especially friendly, though other villagers were.


i wanted a bath, so we headed to a deep spot in a river bisecting an idyllic meadow, where i was promptly ambushed by 9 naked little indians. they lept in the water, unconcerned about the rocks along the shallow bottom. they formed a wagon train of sorts around me, splashing and occasionally invading my deep position in the river. none of them could swim, but they could dog paddle out to the deep part where i was and splash or poke me while giggling wildly. i tried to set aside the disconcerting aspect of being poked by naked indian boys. the frivolity lasted for about 20 minutes.

we returned home just in time for an epic thunderstorm. the grape sized hail pounded the house's tin roof while near constant lighting strikes lit up the sky. this was all too much for a terrified goat, who found shelter in my room. the woman of the house promptly gave it a beating, shooing it back out into the storm. the terrified beast would have none of it though, instead ducking into the now undefended kitchen. so much for any hope (however misplaced) of a semi-sanitary dinner. more beatings and cartoonish chases from room to room ensued.

the fierce weather subsided and the boy cooked me an uninteresting but mercifully edible dinner. afterwards i would sleep in his unimaginably grungy and now goaty bed. (i can honestly say i have never seen a more loathesome pillowcase.) thankfully, the boy would not be joining me, but would be sleeping upstairs with the family.

the next day we set off for kareri lake, about 13km away. the boy carried nothing but a transistor radio coughing out distorted top-40 hindi pop. hindi-pop is better than most asian pop, but it's still mostly crap, and distorted by a shitty transistor radio and questionable reception, it was utter agony. i thought about asking him to shut it off, but trying to explain that a person might prefer the peaceful sounds of nature to distorted hindi-pop would surely only cause confusion. instead i decided i would follow far enough back that i wouldn't hear too much of it, which seemed to suit him fine, and this avoided the whole pointless broken chatter that i have had to suffer through with previous guides. i was forced to accept the fact that we wouldn't be surprising any himalayan tigers or bears with this racket announcing our presense.

we walked along a picturesque riverbed, occasionaly running into shepherds and their flocks.


we would come across occasional "lakes" of sheep and goat poo. it seems the woolly beasts like to dump in a single area and then lie in it, as it is soft and warm. so they tell me. unfortunately we would sometimes have to cross these "lakes".

we finally reached kareri lake. while much better than a shit lake, as water lakes go it was fairly unimpressive, though the mountaintop setting was nice. maybe i've been spoiled by previous treks.

the lakeside trekkers huts had been decapitated by the previous night's storm. all that remained were rock walls--the tin roofs and wooden beams had been thrown a good distance. i realized that had i not ended up lost the day before, there was a good possibility that i would have been in those huts at the moment of their scalping.

i left behind my now napping guide to investigate a flock of sheep/goats consuming a nearby field, while a mangy mountain dog eyed me suspiciously.

i sat down at a viewpoint and was approached by a flirtatious goat. most of the goats and sheep are shy, but not this one. goats of course look like weird little demons, plus they'll eat anything, so it's disconcerting when one approaches and touches her nose to yours.

the shepherd approached and sat nearby (but not too close), looking at me with an expression i couldn't quite decipher. perhaps it was curiousity, or concern, or even mistrust? i wasn't sure what the hell he was doing, or what i was supposed to do next. to break the ice, i asked if i could take his photo. this helped.

meanwhile the dog approached the goat. she transformed from tease to tryant, lowering her head for maximum horn damage before delievering a monster head butt to the canine, who fell to the ground and stayed there, undamaged but submissive. the flirty goat returned to the shepherds side, where she would remain as we all walked back to the lake. clearly this beast had a special status apart from all the other goats/sheep that remained in the herd/flock. then it hit me! this goat was the shepherd's "special friend"! when she flirted with me, the jealous shepherd came over to make sure nothing untoward happened between us. that such a relationship would blossom between goat and lonely mountain man suddenly seemed no surprise. it was no doubt the natural order of things up here, where men live without the comfort of women. how close had i come to having my throat cut in a moment of jealous rage?!

i ran out of water. my guide (who had been occasionally drinking MY water) had earlier told me there would be a shepherds camp where i could refill with boiled water, but this never materialized. already feeling thirsty and hot, the boy took me on a "shortcut" up a precaiously steep mountianside, adding to my crankiness. but it was worth it. inexplicably, this tree covered mountian was at its top a beautiful green grass meadow punctuated by large boulders, and with views on all sides.

a harrowing descent brought us back to the house and its millions of welcoming flies.

a bit later the boy asked me if i'd like some of his uncle's home brewed country liquor. "why not?" i thought, refusing to answer my own question, as thoughts of blindness and brain damage seemed unfun. we set off wandering around the village until we ended up at his grandparents house. thinking him a cushion, i sat on a boy rolled up in blankets sleeping on the couch, but no one seemed to care, including the boy. the old folks seemed a bit weary of life, occasionally mustering up the energy to ask questions of their grandson. they weren't interested in his responses. finally my guide told gramps that he wanted some hooch, and gramps complied. they found an icky plactic bottle in the corner of the room and filled it up, but they couldn't find a bottle cap. so the boy shoved the uncapped bottle into his ludicrously deep back pants pocket, and simply plugged the bottle with his grimey finger. joy. i would soon be drinking finger flavored homebrew. i prayed for high alcohol content.

my prayers were not answered. the booze was suprisingly weak. surely too weak to kill off finger scum, and certainly too weak to keep me from caring about what i was ingesting. still, i drank with the boy and a few of his friends who wandered by. thinking i was happy and drunk instead of bored and sober, and himself emboldened by booze, the boy asked me for thousands of rupees instead of the few hundred we had agreed upon. i told him i had alreadly planned on giving him a LOT more than we had agreed upon (which was true), but nowhere near the ridiculous sum he had just come up with. he protested, but with a parental firmness i told him "there will be no further discussion". this worked, but whatever bond we might have had was now irrecovably damaged. our remaining minutes together felt like hours. at last, after a final trip to the gruesome outhouse for some detoxing, i was left alone to settle into my hard, dirty bed.

the next day i would rejoin society.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

the blog is not dead

...contrary to popular belief. there remain "important" untold stories.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


i'm home. though it doesn't feel particularly homey, in part because i actually have no home as yet. and the hunt can be daunting.

Friday, June 02, 2006

some pictures

i'm expirimenting with photo websites. i've added photos to my crushed mules and pilgrims posting.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

bringing home a bit of india

warning: unpleasant topic.

in the last month, i've had a record number of days of gastrointestinal distress, while my first six months in india were a cakewalk. this runs counter to the conventional wisdom that i should be getting more immune to all of the critters lurking in the fecal matter that ends up in my food.

my theory is that india doesn't want me to leave. like an insanely jealous lover, she'd rather see me dead than with some other country. in fact some of her may well be coming home with me in the form of a parasite.

here's the best article i've read on this problem. you may find this handy the next time you're stuck in a third world city/village/jungle. the example demonstrating why these things happen so often is spot on.

i went to the doctor today because i really do think i have a parasite, but as i suspected, the doc wants to believe it is simply another bacterial problem. she had the same problem american doctors have--she didn't listen, opting to go with the 90% diagnosis to get me out fast and move on to the next patient. of course the whole visit only cost me 50 rupees (just over $1), and they seemed to give me whitey priority (i only had to wait 27 seconds in the crowded waiting room), so the probable mis-diagnosis is at least tolerable.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

my evil return

i return to the states on 6/6/6, the number of the beast. this will extend the length of this most unholy of days to a staggering 36.5 hours for me. if a mighty rapture-esque conflagration engulfs the earth on that day (which i foresaw in a charas induced vision 3 weeks ago), i should be safe in the sky. upon landing i'll take up the duty of repopulating the earth. hopefully i'll find one or more amongst the passengers and crew worthy of my seed, though it is unlikely.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


a 12 hour bus ride and i find myself in dharamsala, home to the dalai lama and the tibetian government in exile. i haven't yet been granted an audience with his holiness. i'm obviously no richard gere. no one needs to confirm this in the comments section.

this is a pleasant place. the weather is perfect. mellow tibetans outnumber the often pushy punjabis. i can finally eat meat and have a beer again, this not being a hindu holy city.

somehow even in this quiet place i ended up in a rowdy bar last night, where a drunken young indian woman (itself a rarity) shouted to her drunken friends "i want STD" and started making out with one them (more of a rarity). STD, by the way, is a telephone communication standard used throughout the country. a drunken old german woman at a nearby table responded by shouting in incomprehensible yet frightening german at her invisible demons for the 4th time since i'd arrived. while not engaged in battle, she fixed her eerie slack-jawed gaze upon me. thankfully she never approached.

i think it's time to head back into nature.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

crushed mules and pilgrims

i stopped in uttarkashi after a 6 hour bus ride from rishiskesh, where i found a guide and a few porters to take me on a five day trek to dodi tal (tal==lake) and the snowy high point (13000 ft) above it. the trek was nice but easy (way too slow) and my guide was annoying. i was determined to stop shelling out big rupees for these treks that i could easily (and more pleasantly) do on my own and in less time. the only thing i lacked really was a sleeping bag. a tent isn't really necessary, as usually you can find something to huddle under in a pinch.

so i caught a shared jeep north to gangotri, the most remote of the 4 mountain temples visited by the devoted. an hour into the journey we were halted by a landslide that crushed a mule.

the landslide was caused by road work, and the owner of the dead mule was demanding compensation from the goverment. for some reason, we had to wait for the "big official" to arrive and assess the situation before they would clear the slide. so for 2 hours i sat and watched a herd of sheep and goats voraciously devour a swathe of the mountainside. it was more interesting than you might imagine. i started a doctor doolittle-ish dialogue with a baby goat who was interested enough in whatever it was i was saying to come over and let me pet him. deprived of meat for the last 2 weeks, i guiltily thought about how tasty this kid would be.

the goat was saved by the arrival of the big man, who struted around in sunglasses and a silly hat and waved around a stick, his large entourage testifying to his importance. he declared that the government would pay the man for his dead mule and finally road clearing work began. i didn't watch them scoop up the mule guts. finally they let vehicles pass one at a time so that if another slide occured, only one group would be crushed to death. we survived.

finally we arrived in gangotri, a nice location along the ganga (ganges), with some views of snowcapped mountains in the distance. the pilgramage season would start on the very next day, and the entire town was being given a last minute coat of paint in lieu of a proper cleaning (so much so that i still have paint on my arm and backpack.) i checked into a hotel, and discovered that my filthy bathroom had no running water at all. instead they brought me a bucket full of holy but cloudy ganga water with which to bathe and flush. a news crew from some hindi channel interviewed me for a story on westerners who visted these holy mountain sites. i could tell they were disappointed that i didn't babble new age god-meets-river-meets-mountain nonsense. essentially i told them that i sort of randomly wandered up here with no intention of meeting god. i will probably not be on the air. back home i enjoyed the 2 hours of generator provided electricity and went to bed early.

the next morning i headed out alone toward gomuhk and the massive glacier that feeds the mother ganga. this time no porters and no guides--for the first time i would actually be carrying all of my own gear. it was easier than i thought. the trail followed the ganga, climbing gradually for 13km until hitting upon bhojbasa and its ashram in the desolate river valley where i could spend the night. fortunately they were still serving lunch and i stuffed myself silly with rice and dahl. the weather was starting to turn ugly. i checked into my cold, tiny room. fortunately they had thick (albeit filthy) blankets. i napped until someone came by and installed a large israeli man next to me, a cosier arrangement than i would have liked. this inspired me to get out a bit and socialize in the bitter cold with my fellow ashramees, an odd mix of saddhus and pilgrims and israelis and even a few other americans.

i should explain the ashram concept for those who don't know. actually, i'm not sure i really understand it (as with most indian institutions), but i'll give it a shot: ashrams are ostensibly semi-religious, communal, tax exempt places to eat and sleep and meditate and "get away from it all". they are often run by a guru of some ilk who might teach yoga or lecture about god, etc. you supposedly donate what you'd like for your room and board. the reality is that many ashrams are little more than tax-evading hotels with a fixed "donation" that you have no choice but to pay. this particular ashram was turning a tidy profit, packing us in tightly for a mandatory "donation" of 150 a head. at least that's what whitey was paying.

it was too cold and rainy to do much but huddle in the room. dinner was a large communal and cold affair, with lots of pre-eating chanting and such. i don't know what it was i was chanting, but i chanted nonetheless, afraid they wouldn't feed me if i didn't.

i slept early because i had nothing else to do. my roommate "redeye" went down the hall to flirt with a roomfull of israeli chicks, which i think is against the rules.

i woke at 5:30 am and in started the 5km toward gomukh in the freeing wind, but it warmed quickly as the sun rose in the cloudless sky. i decided i would not try to go to tapovan, 6km beyond gomukh, because everyone told me a guide was essential, as crossing the glacier was dangerous and the trail was to hard to follow.

the trail was deserted as i approched gomukh and the gangorti glacier.

apparently on average one pilgrim a week is crushed to death when the monster glacier calves, so i thought better of standing directly in front of the beast. instead i continued climbing the rocky trail alongside the glacier, looking for better views. after another half an hour i realized that i was well on my way to tapovan. i decided i might as well keep going, vowing to turn back as soon as things got tricky. i broke my vow almost immediately. the rock-hopping trail along the glacier surface was difficult to follow, even without the patches of snow obscuring portions of it. i used my binoculars and my guidebook description and some landmarks to map out where the trail generally was, so that when i lost it i could find it again. progress was slow; i lost the trail several times, but always found it again.

finally i made it to the steep mountain wall i would now have to climb. a stream flowed down the mountain, and many of the rocks were icy and loose. i heard thunderous crashing nearby--a landslide. these became disturbingly regular as i ascended the mountain, but were always on the unstable ground to the right and left of the path. i supposed this spate of landslides must have had something to do with the early morning sun thawing the evening's freeze. i was emboldened by the appearance of a few porters below me, just starting up the mountain i was now most of the way up, though i was also afraid i might send some of the loose rocks tumbling down upon them. i ignored sign painted on a rock that pointed me across the river to tapovan, because the river crossing was far too treacherous. instead i continued up. at last i was there. though hardly the lush green valley filled with wild blue sheep my guidebook described (too early in the season), the snow covered plain bisected by an icy river and hemmed in by dramatic himalayan peaks was nonetheless beautiful and worth the trip.

i found my way down and back to the ashram by lunchtime. i had a double helping of rice and dahl. i was fairly tired, having done 22km of difficult trekking, but at the same time didn't relish spending the afternoon at the cold and boring ashram. did i dare walk all the way to gangotri? could i possibly be that stupid? yes and yes.

i started back. the weather turned ugly quickly. the wind picked up, and it began to snow. after 5km i found a shelter shared by 8 others and waited for the weather to calm. a gangotri bound family contemplated heading back to bojhbasa. after half an hour i decided i would wait no longer and pressed on through the snow. the weather soon cleared. i encountered an impressive herd of wild blue sheep (huge beasts with massive curly horns) along the way.

it was slow going, but by 5pm i completed my 35km of trekking, my legs feeling like jello. i found the closest hotel with running water (though no hot water) and a generator which the owner promised would be on in a few hours. the generator came on but i had no power. a man came to my room to investigate. he took off his shoes, assulting me with the worst foot stink i have ever encountered. i shooed him out, but the stink would not leave. the man declared there was a short and brought me 4 candles. i declared i must leave my dark and stinky room, and in my exhausted state was forced to venture out in search of another hotel. i checked into an uglier one for the same price, but at least i had electricity. that is until half and hour later when the generator broke down. i gave up, and decided to go to bed early. just as sleep was setting in, an enraged man started pounding on my door, trying to force it open. he yelled things in hindi through the locked door and i yelled back at him in english. he eventually decided i wasn't the guy sleeping with his wife (or something equivalent) and left. i decided i despised gangotri, and finally went to sleep, as yet unaware of the tick that had burrowed its way into my chest.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

rishikesh rut

i'm in rishikesh, home of yoga, the ganges river (the clean part), massive ashrams, tons of israeli tourists (i don't know why, but they dominate here like nowhere i have ever seen), cows and monkeys galore, and hindu pilgrims passing through on the way to the 4 sacred himalayan temples in the far north of the state. there are probably a few beatles prilgrims around as well, i suppose, as the beatles made this place famous to us westerners.

it's all very annoying, really. and made more so by my (perhaps bird?*) flu and my days of delerious fever. tomorrow i hope to go white water rafting on the ganges. this will be the first time i have rafted on God, as a few saddus have explained to me that that the ganges is god and mother. Saddus, for those who don't know, are holy men who smoke loads of ganja (legally--saddus only though) and often prance around naked abusing their genitals. a saddu might, for example, wrap his penis around a stick and then tug on mercilessly the stick. this is sometimes even done in public. i'm pretty sure they also abuse themselves the way a 14 year old boy abuses himself vigorously and frequently. these two activities bring them enlightment and/or closeness to god, and i suspect, much nap time. oh, they also ask for money and food (for the munchies). i bought a saddu some chapatis the other night, because he was so mellow (pot) and had such a friendly smile (pot) and followed quietly beside me (pot), such a welcome contrast to the other 9 people chasing me down the street for their handout. i wish the entire country were stoned.

*[i was speculating that i had bird flu becuase i actually ate a dish (many times) in sikkim that contained not only chicken, but CHICKEN FEATHERS. people kept proudly buying me the chewy green dish at a cultural festival (and i kept eating it), until a local dignitary explained to me that the dish was made from feathers. when he saw my face he told me that the feathers were very clean.]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

trekking posts

i was going to dump them all at once, but i got too wordy. stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, days 6-10!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

the trek, day 5 - spit swapping

we were awoken at the crack of dawn (5am) to sunny skies. hallelujah! we immediately crossed over the now frozen stream out front, and hiked through the new snow, up about 500 feet to the viewpoint. at last, there were the mountains, in all their glory. but my camera wasn't working. all my batteries, including an unused set, were dead. it turns out that batteries don't work in this level of cold, something i didn't know. darcy started rubbing my batteries in his hands and revived them long enough that i could get a few shots. we were up there amongst the tibetan prayer flags for about an hour watching the sun rise along the mountain range.

back down we went for breakfast, then out for a day trek into the surrounding area. the clouds were already rolling in, but we still had some mountain views. our guide and a few porters showed the aussies how to build a snowman, and we played cricket (i just pretended it was baseball) with snowballs and our bamboo walking sticks. snowball fights occasionally broke out. it was all very wholesome. inspite of my episode in the middle of the night, i was feeling pretty confident now about my ability to survive the whole trek, if only the weather would let us through. while we would ultimately be going 3000 feet higher, we wouldn't be spending the night much higher than we were now.

on the way back we stopped by a large house, consisting of little more than a lot of rocks piled on top of one another and a tin roof with rocks piled on top of that to keep it from blowing off. here we met a local woman and her new puppy. sitting on a yak skin in front of the house, the woman played a game with the pup in her lap. she'd let a large phlegmy lughi dangle from her mouth. this would drive the spit hating pup mad with rage. barking wildly, he'd suddenly leap up and try to eat her lughi, at which point the woman would suck the lughi back up into her mouth. occasionally the dog would triumpth and end up snatching a bit of the lughi before the woman could suck it all back. inexplicably, darcy and the bodily function loving aussies sat and watched this for a good 20 minutes. so this is how mountain people entertain themselves i thought. i was suddenly feeling nauseated again.

the rest of the day was spent loitering around the campsite, feeling cold, and swapping trekking/altitude sickness stories with other trekkers. the good natured aussies actually managed to find an irishman they despised (with good reason), and we all spend a good deal of time mocking him. eventually darcy took pity on us and said he'd sneak us into to caretakers place (he was out for a few hours) where we could warm ourselves by the fire. somehow the guides are always huddled around a fire somewhere, whereas the trekkers are left exposed. but at last this would be remedied! we piled in and huddled around the smoky stove. darcy muttered something about us not leaving the room, as no one was supposed to know we were there, and that he would need to lock the door. he was gone before the full implications of this sunk in. at first it was pleasant enough, but then all of a sudden the room was filled with smoke, as chimney technology hadn't made it's way up here yet. suddenly we were all having a bit of trouble breathing. trish began to panic. she tried the locked door, then pounded on it and called for darcy. no one came. fortunately i was able to get the window open and we all piled out. darcy came by and calmly apologized for trying to kill us. for the next few days, i would smell like rhododendron smoke, which, i suppose it better than what i was starting to smell like on my own. no shower for 4 days now. yuck.

we settled in for another freezing night.

the trek, day 4 - seven degree freezing point

in the morning i felt better, though not 100%. apparently at least one person from another trekking party in tshoka had to head back that morning due to altitute problems. i decided not to be a hero and told our guide about my problem--at least the vomity part. he thought it was a food issue, because i didn't have a headache, and because one of the porters had a similar problem. i was sure he was wrong--i've been poisoned countless times, this was different--but i didn't push it. they made me garlic soup for breakfast, which apparently is a natural remedy for altitude sickness. safe from vampires at least, i pressed on.

again the weather was terrible. we reached the snow line. hank and trish were thrilled, having little previous snow experience. i was less excited--the trail was getting slushy and my shoes had seen better days. the last thing i wanted was frozen feet. more climbing and we reached dzrongri (13200 feet) at around 1pm. this place is a trekkers hub where a few different trails meet, though there is still no electricity or running water or anyone living up here--just a large trekkers hut and a large outhouse (3 stalls!). for many groups this is the furthest (and highest) they'll go because it was all they'd planned. for many others, it's the furthest they'd go due to altitude sickness. we had already heard of many (and met a few on the way down) who were forced to turn back from here. if we didn't succumb, we were to spend 2 nights here, for the sake of acclimatizing. i thought of the info on the wall back in tshoka--it said you should only sleep 1000 feet higher than you did the day before. tonight would be about 4000 feet higher!

i was feeling ok. not great, but no worse than before, except for the bitter cold up here. we were still socked in by clouds, only now it began to snow. again, the aussies were delighted. hank asked darcy how cold it would get. darcy said "probably about 7 [celcius] (45 fahrenheit)", which became the running joke of the trip, as snow was accumulating on the ground and the water in my water bottle was even starting to freeze. with each hour of the white stuff accumulating i was increasingly sure that if the altitude didn't send me home, the snow would, because our path would be blocked. already darcy was hinting that we might not be able to go forward from here, but this struck me more as laziness on his part.

it was hard to climb out of the sleeping bag into the cold just for the sake of dinner, but i did, before retreating back for an early sleep. this time i woke in the middle of the night with breathing issues and i thought i was going to die. this lasted an hour or two.

the trek, day 3 - altitude sickness

we were awoken with 6am tea, followed by 6:30am washing water, followed by 7am breakfast, followed by a 7:30 departure. this would be the routine followed most mornings. hank was kept up all night hy cow bells. apparently he's a very light sleeper. i wondered if my snoring was keeping him up too, but after last night's fart-fest, i didn't really care if it did.

as we prepared to leave, hank wanted to show me an apparently extremely impressive pile of human shit on a rock (not his). while indulging him, i accidentally brushed my leg against the plant darcy said i must never touch. immune to poison ivy and poison oak, i hoped i might be immune to whatever this was as well. i was not. a reddish, painful bistering appeared almost immediately. i forced myself to ignore it. worst of all, the pile of shit on a rock wasn't even that impressive.

we hiked straight up the mountain and into a cloud bank. darcy told us how nice the views would be if we could see them. we were able to see some rhododendrons blooming along the path. the lower altitude red and some of the pink were in bloom, but the higher altitude yellow and white were not. darcy told us how magnificent it would be 2 weeks from now. hooray.

at about 9000 feet, i became suddenly light-headed. though there's no way to know who might get altitude sickness, and it's in no way related to how healthy you are, i still couldn't believe that i might be succumbing to it. still, we were very close to our campsite now, so i continued hiking. we arrived in tshoka (pronounced choka), at about 9200 feet. it was only 1pm. rather than just a shack surrounded by shit, this place was a tiny, picturesque village. i was still feeling drunk from the altitude. a poster on the wall of our trekking hut had a list of altitude sickness symptoms to watch out for, and relayed the story of a boy who had never woken up from his sleep at 8000 feet when his symptoms were ignored. i wished i hadn't read that. i distracted myself by going shopping. of the 8 buildings in the village, 2 of them sold stuff to trekkers at grossly inflated prices. it was already colder than i thought it would be, so i bought a pair of nepali mittens from a roly-poly sikkimese woman.

i endured hank and trish's nightly fart-a-thon and even countered with a few of my own (which they deemed pathetic), before finally settling into a stinky sleep, hopeful that i'd be properly acclimatized by morning.

i awoke at 2am, breathing heavily and feeling like i was about to vomit. i sat up in the cold pitch black for hours, preparing to run outside into the rain when the moment struck. my breathing was labored, and my body would occasionally shake, but not from the cold. i was now almost convinced i must have altitude sickness, and mulled over the fact that i would almost certainly have to head down the mountain. the vomit never came. i felt better enough to fall back asleep.

the trek, day 2 - yak bonding

the next morning we were actually able to see a snowy mountain peak in the distance, and i was encouraged. we drove to the staring point of our trek, where we met our trekking team:

person #1 - darcy - our doubly downgraded sikkimese guide. later i would learn that he is still in trainee status and therefore comes quite cheap. in spite of being a young trainee he already carries a world weary demeanor.

person #2 - our cook. a genius considering what he had to work with.

persons #3-5 - 3 porters/helpers - these guys (kids, really) are lowest on the totem pole, doing all of the dirty work.

person #6 - yak man - feeds, drives, loads, and loves (by this i mean cares for) the yaks.

4 yaks to carry all our stuff. a yak costs more than a porter, which in some way makes some sense, as a yak can carry more, though he can't set up a tent. a horse costs even more, as they move faster than the sluggish yaks, but yaks lend more atmosphere to a himilayan trek i think.

[technical note: these yaks aren't actually yaks, but are dzos, a yak/cow crossbreed. the problem with pure yaks is that they die at lower altitudes, hence the dzo was created. but locals often call dzos yaks anyway, and "yak" is more fun a word, so i will continue to call them yaks.]

and so we finally began our trek into the himilayas. the porters/cook ran ahead, while the yaks plodded behind. we lost our sun quickly as the clouds rolled in. still, we were low enough that it wasn't that cold, yet. at this altitude the vegetation was dense. trees were covered with moss, and there were even a few small flowers in bloom. we trekked near a roaring river, crossing it 3 times before finally heading up and away from it.

by 11:30 we were already at our first campsite. i was disgusted--this is trekking? it turns out most groups do in one day what were taking two to do. ugh. at least trish seemed happy with darcy's conservative approach. i held my tongue.

our campsite, where we would be apparently spending a LOT of time, consisted of a small trekkers hut and a tiny outhouse that darcy strongly suggested we not use. i didn't even dare look in, but trish did and declared it the most ungodly thing she had ever seen. our campsite was surrounded by a poisonous plant that darcy told us we mustn't dare touch (without explaining the consequences), yet our staff was busy collecting large clumps of it to brew up some sort of concoction, hopefully not for us. our camp was surrounded by heaps of yak shit (which is relatively benign), and more sneakily placed human shit (which is loathesome). i learned that not only do yaks not mind lying down in piles of their own shit, they revel in it (as much as yaks revel in anything). i suppose it is warm, at least. having nothing better to do, i spent a good deal of time watching the vapid yaks sit there and chew their cud, the bells around their necks chiming with each masticating motion. those damnable bells. hank was already complaining about the notion of sleeping through their all-night ringing. i offered the yak who carried my bag a few pieces of french toast i found in my pocket leftover from breakfast in yoksum. yaks will eat just about anything (mostly they set about eating tree limbs and leaves), but their eyes light up when offered french toast. i stroked the yak between his massive horns. it wasn't clear whether he was even aware of it--he just stared, vacantly. i asked darcy about the yak. he said it was 14. "how old do yaks live?" i asked. "14 or 15," he replied. i envisioned us carrying our own bags down after our yak died at the mountain top. on the other hand i also envisioned eating a tough but tasty french-toast-fed yak steak.

eating was the exciting part of the day. the aussies were big eaters, and i learned quickly that if i didn't spoon out my entire share upfront, they would quickly and remorselessly snatch it for themselves. meals usually consisted of 4 or 5 dishes, and sometimes even dessert. it was very impressive, though there was no meat or eggs. darcy told us this was because of "bird flu", which was nonsense--i'd been eating checken and eggs everywhere else. more cost cutting, no doubt.

meals were invariably followed (or sometimes accompanied) by a symphony of farts and belches from my aussie companions. this was especially awful after dinner, when trying to sleep in cramped quarters amongst all of the farts and giggles. yes, to them this was high entertainment. i realized, to my horror, that i would be spending the next 9 days with terrence and phillip.

the trek, day 1 - zero miles hiked

we got out of the jeep at the sikkim border checkpoint, showing our passports and special "sikkim" permits. our paperwork was in order, but our jeep wasn't, and our driver and "guide" crawled underneath the vehicle to work on the problem. we had decended steeply from darjeeling, and for the first time in 6 days, i felt vaguely warm, as the sun peeked out of the clouds. i chatted with trish and hank, the extremely friendly austrialian couple i would spend the next 10 days with in very close company. they were ridiculously upbeat about the trek, though trish was a bit nervous about the physical demands to come.

i had just paid 18000 rupees ($400+) for a 10 day trek, making this easily my most expensive travel related activity ever. already our trekking guide had been downgraded that morning from the "best" guide to a different "really good" guide, and my trust in "fat mickey", the nepali or tibetan or sikimese looking (i really can't tell the difference) tour operator out of darjeeling, was wavering. i was already annoyed that this day 1 of a 10 day trek didn't involve one bit of trekking. we were simply being driven to a hotel in yoksom--we wouldn't even be hiring our cook, porters and yaks until tomorrow, yet we were still paying $40 for the day. it got worse after our breakfast stop, when we were presented with a bill. "but mickey said everything was included so i didn't bring any rupees", i told our guide, whose face dropped at the news. i was lying of course, and "found" some cash. i wanted to establish early on that i would expect to receive what i was promised, or i would make trouble. not that i expected this scene to make a whole lot of difference, having already forked over every rupee in advance. even good natured hank took and annoyed stance and started cursing fat mickey. trish was annoyed by our negativity.

we arrived in yoksum and our guide apologized for our hotel being full. instead of staying in the nice place on the top of the hill we were relegated to the pokey place on the main drag. at least my bathroom had a hot water geyser, though at the moment there was no electricity to heat the water with. remembering breakfast, i asked, "you will be paying for our lunch and dinner, right?" i asked. "yes, yes, everything" our guide said. so we all went hog wild at lunch and dinner, ordering multiple plates of everything from the menu, though sadly the restaurant was completely out of meat. at dinner we were presented with a bill for our drinks, both from lunch and dinner. our waiter told us that our guide said we had to pay for our drinks. hank and i were irate, but trish wanted us to pay up and behave. we relented. our downgraded guide appeared and apologized that he was no longer going to be able to guide us, but that a doubly downgraded "good" guide would be taking us along. those bastards. would it be nine more days of this? would they even have enough food to feed us or adquate sleeping bags to keep us warm?

after dinner, in the rain, the town lit by candlelight and the occasional bolt of lightning, i scoured the streets for a pair of mittens and some extra alkaline batteries, but couldn't find either. damp and tired, i followed the candlelight up the stairs to my cold, dark room.

Friday, March 31, 2006

back from the top of the world

sorry for the silence. i have only just now returned from a 10 day trek into the forbidding indian himilayas, where i found my way to the base of the mountain with the 3rd highest peak on earth (i made it to something just shy of 16000 feet). the trek was somewhat of an ordeal (freezing every night, shitting in the snow, fighting off altitude sickness, etc.), which i will detail in my next post. now if you'll excuse me, i need to take my first shower in 10 days, as i'm sure the people around me would agree.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

goodbye burma

tomorrow i catch a flight back to india (calcutta). at the moment i'm feeling less than excited about returning to the madness that is india after a month of gentle myanmar. i'll probably slowly make my way back to banglore, where i'll have some time to write about some of the highlights of myanmar (there were many). internet access here has been a constant battle.

today is a bit of a lowlight--it's sweltering hot here in yangon and i'm recovering from a 20 hour bus ride from inle lake. wish i were in chilly london sipping that pint anonymous #1 has offered...

Sunday, February 26, 2006


i've emerged from the remote mountains of namhsan where i lived in an old lady's house for 4 nights without the comforts of electricity or running water. the hospitality i encountered wandering from village to village was unprecedented in all of my travels. i was invited into homes and offered food and drink everywhere i went, even though most of these people live on less than $1 a day. will fill in the details later...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

living with your local junta

most asian countries that even bother with stoplights, treat "green" as go, "yellow" as go fast, and "red" as go but look around a bit and ride your horn. in yangon, the lights go from green->flashing green(yellow coming soon)->yellow->red. what's amazing is that people stop on flashing green. i have never seen anyone run a yellow light here. which brings me to my point. there's definitely a sinsister side to the clean, quiet, orderly streets of yangon. you get the feeling that people don't run the yellow light because they don't DARE.

today i visited the palace in mandalay. i had my name and passport info written down by 3 different people in the palace complex. i was confronted with multiple signs telling me where i was not allowed to go. a banner hung outside the palace that no true patriot would subvert the will of the union, or some such thing. occasionally even, the locals grumble quietly to me about their situation. but it is always done quietly, and usually only after heavy drinking.

speaking of which, burma makes a supurb scotch whiskey. who would have guessed? and for about $1.50 a bottle no less.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

burmese daze

whatd'ya know... i can use blogger in burma. there are even tricks for accessing gmail.

so i was poisoned on the train from varanasi to gaya the day before my flight to burma. i somehow made it through the train and plane trips, each of which was several hours late. this is particularly impressive for a 2 hour flight. at least air india upgraded me to first class for free. anyway, i am still sick, spending a large part of each day and night purging my body of poisons. i get 4 or 5 hour reprieves, making me think i'm completely better, then it comes back. ugh.

the contrast from india to burma is striking. everyone here is quiet and mild mannered. there are no auto-rickshaws or motorbikes allowed on the squeaky clean streets of yangon. no one uses their horns. even though i'm sick, i'm quite happy to be here.

more later

Monday, February 06, 2006

burma bound

blogger is messed up. i can't post anything without it overwriting the previous post. i have two posts queued up that aren't taking. anyway, i'm heading to burma on thursday. like china, they may well block this site and even email sites. so if you can't reach me at my gmail account, it doesn't necessarily mean i'm dead. i might be switching back to ball of dirt, assuming they don't block that as well.

also, internet access will be much spottier (and pricier) in burma, so my already lackluster posting volume may get even worse...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

the beauty and the beasts

the taj mahal would easily be my most high profile stop since leaving home almost one year ago. it did not disappoint, even though i paid about $18 to get in (as opposed to the 50 cents or so that indians pay) and you can't even enter the taj itself (except for one darkened room). so essentially, you pay $18 to look at a building from the outside. but it is just so epic, that you feel satisfied anyway.

unfortunately the taj mahal is surrounded by agra, the worst place i have been in india. a filthy city filled with liars and cheats and the dregs of humanity. i suppose they flock here because so many newbie tourists come to agra as a near first stop in india (delhi is too big to have tourists to swindle in a concentrated form--though there are still plenty of swindlers here too). my guidebook goes so far as to suggest i don't eat in an agra restaurant they don't recommend because i might be poisoned as part of an insurance billing scam. walking down the street you are approached constantly by scammer after scammer. there's the "game scam" and the "drug scam" and the "gem scam" and even a the "scam scam" where a guy warns you about all the scams and then insinuates that this good karma he's generated means you will certainly buy things from him. if you take a auto-rickshaw or cycle-rickshaw to avoid the scamers encountered while on foot, you will be hounded by said rickshaw driver to take part in whatever his scam is, and if you don't you'll be harassed to pay more than the agreed upon fare. out of the 5 or so rickshaw rides i took, about 4 of them ended in fight of some kind. and when you fight, indians flock around you in droves to "arbitrate" or just gawk. it's all so tiring after the first few times. even the city is involved in scams. the ticket price itself is a scam, as the money would supposedly go to taj maintenance and restoration but instead lines officials' pockets. but there's more. i bought my taj ticket, and was surprised to see that it entitled me to "free entry" to 4 other monuments around town. hooray i thought, and i hired a rickshaw to take me around. it turns out, my entrance is free, but i still have to pay the tax. for foreigners, this works out to not paying 10 rupees "entrance" but still paying 100 rupees tax. so you end up paying 100 rupees instead of 110. thanks agra, you bastards. but it's not just me. i met a college student on the train to delhi who asked me what i thought of his hometown of 20 years. i hesitantly hinted that agra wasn't my favorite place in the world and he launched into an anti-agra tirade. we bonded over this.

in general, the north is beginning wear on me. so many people approaching with "friendly conversation" designed to lead you into some sort of bilking. in the rest of asia, i shrug off the touts and scammers with smiles and jokes, but this doesn't really work so well here. here i have to stare people down and order them to go away. sometimes i even have to get a bit physical. today buying a train ticket, i actually grabbed a queue cutter and moved him back behind me. his ego bruised slightly, he strutted a bit, but there was nothing behind it. others in line were surprised but impressed and gave me the thumbs up. perhaps india has cured me of my natural shyness.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

rajasthani whirlwind

it has been a busy week plus running around rajasthan. i have explored several massive and nearly pristine 500+ year old forts (really palaces in hilltop fortress settings). i have done puja for my friends and family along the ghats of the holy city of pushkar. i have ridden a loathesome camel deep into the thar desert and slept under the stars. i have even (legally) explored the twisted pathways of my own mind using supplies from a government authorized bhang shop.

the pace is breakneck, but i've only got 10 days til i fly to burma, and there's still so much to see...

Saturday, January 21, 2006


well, it finally happened. my camera is gone. i had it, then i didn't. i don't know what happened. if it was stolen, i don't know how it was stolen. more likely i did something stupid.

i only lost my ahmedabad pictures (which i am quite sad about) and a few hours of udiapur, so it could have been worse.

i was forced to buy an inferior camera for more money than my original camera. india is a terrible place to buy electronics. high tariffs i think.

going now to file a police report (so i can make an insurance claim). that should be fun. i wonder how much i'll have to pay them for the priviledge. then i'll need to work on getting undepressed.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

my rockstar moment

i flew kingfisher airlines to ahmedabad, in the state of gujarat, just south of rajasthan. kingfisher is the most popular beer in india, and the beer baron who runs it recently started a "luxury-economy" airline (that doesn't, by the way, serve beer). i wouldn't feel great about flying budweiser airlines at home, as i don't associate great piloting with shitty beer, but i was strangely pleased to be on kingfisher. anyway, the idea of the airline is that you get singapore airlines style service with southwest airlines style prices. for the 3 hour flight, i ate 2 delicious lunches and received oodles of complementary gifts. the seat next to me was even empty. the entire experience was so much better than flying in the us. rumor has it that the boss recruited stewardesses from the pool of slutty "bar girls" who lost their jobs during recent govt crackdowns, but i was not offered a lap dance or any sort of mile-high club membership. this would be my only complaint.

my first task, after getting my $4.40 hotel room with hot water and cable tv (and slightly soiled sheets), was to head for the train station and book my onward ticket to udiapur. at the station, i met a group of travelers desperate to leave the place. they were horrified that they had to wait 8 hours for a train. i suggested they store their bags with the stationmaster and spend the time seeing the city. they complained that the city is unpleasant and there is nothing to see. true, my guidebook did mention that the overcrowded city is one of the 10 most polluted in the world, and suggested covering one's mouth with a rag while walking around, but it still indicated that there was a lot to see. as i waited and waited and waited to book my ticket at the "speedy" tourist window, i talked to another guy who was upset that he couldn't get the seat he wanted and would be "stuck" here for another day. after all of that i decided i'd book a seat out thursday night instead of friday.

all of these people were morons. i walked out of the train station with my ticket and got lost in the crowded streets. there were no tourists. there were no touts. even the beggars didn't know what to do with me. there were lots and lots of smiles and hellos and handshakes. this is probably because there were no tourists or western faces. none. everywhere there were amazing old crumbling buildings, stunning 600 year old city gateways and mosques (this is a very muslim city) and bustling markets. arcitectually, this was the closest i had come to the india i had imagined. perhaps this is how things look all over the north?

today was even more amazing.

i headed for the 600 year old step wells in the morning. step wells sound boring, but they aren't. these go 5 stories underground, are ornately decorated, and surprisingly spooky. bats would actually graze my head as i entered darkened stairwells and pushed aside cobwebs.

after finishing exploring, i went in search of another nearby well. the locals stared. even the dogs and cows seemed surprised to see me. an old man started walking with me. he was going to show me where the second well was. i assumed this would be another attempt to extract a few rupees backsheesh, but what're you gonna do? we went to the well, which doubles as a hindu temple, and was far less impressive than the first. he asked me if i wanted to get tea. oh god, here it comes. he led me down a narrow but bright and homey alleyway, where the locals sat in front of their homes and went about their business. they were all shocked to see me of course. my voice was starting to get hoarse from all the hellos. i thought we were going to a tea stall but we ended up entering a house. the whole family was there. i met the man's daughters and their kids. at first i was a bit nervous. my guidebook details scams that involve poisoning tourists and so on, so i was on high alert. but interacting with the family it was becoming clear to me that this was the real thing. they brought me tea and then lunch! i took pictures of the family. it was all very nice and they were very hospitable and never asked for a single rupee. i left happy and with a full stomach.

i walked in search of the textile museum, hoping to make it before the lunchtime closing. yeah, i know, textiles? who f*%king cares? but my guidebook claims it's the one "must see" in ahmedabad, and perhaps the best textile museum in the world, so i figure i'd better find out why. along the way, i'm approached by kids. then more kids. i am peppered with questions. everyone wants to touch me. i'm serious. i'm surrounded. adults show up. kids want their pictures taken. i take them. then everyone wants to see the picture on my camera. there's lots of pushing. a few mafia types show up and i believe asked for 150 rupees for the pictures. i laughed in their faces. but they were minor characters in the story. most people were friendly, but the friendliness was morphing into something slightly ugly. as if i were a rock star that the people wanted a piece of. the mob grew. a few guys appointed themselves my bodyguards and helped me push forward. the mob filled the street now, and blocked traffic. things were getting insane. a man hopped in an auto-rickshaw and plowed through the crowd toward me. he told me to jump in. i did. hands prodded me as we sped off and i waved my goodbyes to the mob. whew.

on a smaller scale, this happened repeatedly throught the day, especially where kids were around. i found that i basically couldn't take pictures on the street, as this seems to cause exponential mob growth.

back to the rugs. so the textile museum was closed when i got there, as the auto driver and seemingly everyone else in town didn't have a clue where this world class museum was. i had an hour and a half to kill. i met a young guy outside who gave me a free ride on his motorbike to another museum nearby. then he took me to a temple. then he bought me tea. then he bought me pan (that beetlenut-wrapped-in-a-leaf concoction that most tourists are afraid of). then we met his friends. finally he took me back to the textile museum and said he'd probably come back in two hours when i was done! i hoped that i could sneak past him, because all of this hospitality was starting to kill me. also, he had a habit of spitting in my face when he talked.

it's weird--the entrace to the textile museum is restricted to only 15 people, you get a 2 hour guided tour, and it's free. everything in this town is free. i have no idea why. i snuck out a few minutes early--i was falling asleep from looking at rugs. i avoided my spitting friend. still feel kinda bad about that. did a bunch more stuff later. saw lots of old impressive mosques. more impressive building facades. and more mini-mobs.

i often meet other travelers who tell me that they never have positive experiences with locals... that all overtures of friendship or interest are a rouse to get you to part with your money. it must be that these people stay firmly on the tourist trail, because one day in ahmedabad completely obliterated this theory... i was so overwhelmed by hospitality i was literally fleeing from it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

home away from home

i'm back in bangalore. this is my 4th and final day here. i've been cozying up with the girlfriend, visiting the doctor for my latest malady, and planning the next leg of my journey from the office. it's nice to have a familiar base of operations.

a long time ago, it had crossed my mind to do this in every country. i figured i could hook up with a girlfriend in each country i visited, and perhaps marry the top 3 (i didn't want to stretch myself too thin) and start families. i had rose in china, phoung in vietnam, and juan in laos (yes, juan is a woman). i never found a candidate in malaysia/singapore, but i was a cripple then, and chicks don't dig cripples.

what stopped me? who can say for sure. perhaps marrying a woman willing to trade sex for financial security seemed somehow unappealing to me. perhaps i'm not a bigamist at heart. after all, it's a big step to go from 0 to 3 wives, just like that.

my girlfriend here is not of this ilk, lest anyone think otherwise. she is a proper girlfriend, mostly, though her head is filled with ridiculous notions.

last night, she explained to me that american english is trash. that the queen's english is the only proper english. i explained that american english is largely the result of removing the dopey and/or gay things from british english. for example, all of those superfluous u's in words like 'colour'--we, sensibly, got rid of them. she had a counter-example. she said said the brits say 'give me', while the proper american word, apparently used by american authors and listed in american dictionaries is 'gimme', proving what animals we are. i have no idea where she gets these ludicrous notions, but she gets them regularly. i responed by pawing her and insisting she 'gimme a big kiss with them purty lips of [hers]'. she was overcome by a mix of shock and embarassment, though i'm sure she secretly likes it. i horrify her like this on a regular basis, which is a big reason i enjoy being with her. you practially have to offer up a surprise cleveland steamer to shock a woman back home.

on to my current health problem--in kerala one morning i noticed pus oozing from my eye (actually a guy i met on a ferry pointed it out to me). icky. my diagnosis: eye infection. 2 days later, my ear hurt. my diagnosis: ear infection. hmm. at this rate soon my entire head would be one big infection. so i went to the doctor where i happened to be: varkala, a smallish beach town. surely the doctor, with his experience and skills and his fancy ear-o-scope (or whatever it is they call that thing) would be able to figure out the problem and fix me up.

the hospital staff were shocked to see the white man. i got the vip treatment, catapulting ahead of the waiting masses. or this is how it appeared to me. i felt bad about this, but not bad enough to protest. i wan't looking forward to the invasive ear exam, but my fears were misplaced. the doctor whipped out a massive silver eveready flashlight whose D cells were obviously nearly dead, and directed the "beam" aka mood lighting into my ear. he parroted back my suggestion that i had an ear infection. he sent me across the street to the eye doctor, who looked at my eye with a flashlight that might have been even worse. i doubt my pupils even budged. he concurred: "infection". for good measure, he had me read some letters off the wall to make sure i hadn't gone blind and wasn't telling him.

the two doctors got together with me and gave me 2 kinds of pills and two kinds of drops (ear & eye) and insisted that i must not swim. great. here i was at varkala beach, with nothing to do but swim, and now i wasn't able to do that.

my ear pain got worse, then better with the antibiotics. i arrived in bangalore and a day later my hearing went out in the infected ear, and a day after that the pain returned. today i went to a doctor, who, by contrast to the kerala doctor shoved a stick deep into my ear (though it felt like he may have hit brain). ouch. he removed the stick, looked at it as if checking a car's oil level, and pronounced: "infection". he then shoved the invasive ear-o-scope in there and determined that my ear drum was punctured. I wanted to ask "before or after you shoved that stick in there?" but i held my tongue. he told me it's likely the puncture will heal within 10 days and my hearing will return to normal. if not, my drum will need to be "patched". god forbid. he also pointed out that any drops i put in my ear will pass though the hole in the drum and run down my throat. so apparently i have been drinking ear drops for the past few days. yumm.

finally, i've been planning the next stops on my trip. at last i am venturing north. i'm flying to ahmedabad tomorrow, a jumping off point to rajasthan, home to so many of the touristy must-sees. i will make my way east to agra (taj mahal) and dehli and beyond until i reach bihar, the wild west of india, where a man will kill another man for 20 rupees, or a woman for 10. here i will catch a flight to burma, assuming the military junta running the place lets me in. or at least this is the plan du jour. what happens after that is unclear.

Monday, January 09, 2006

commies for christ

everywhere i look in kerala i see jesus. no, i haven't been born again. rather this just seems to be a very christian state, and combined with the indian penchant for idolatry, this means lots and lots of jesus images, especially on buses. in fact, jesus was blocking my views of some spectactular scenery as my bus left the hill station of munnar the other day. i forgave him.

kerala is also a big communist stronghold. lots of hammer and sickle flags flying everywhere. makes sense--jesus was essentially a communist as far as i've understood it, rather than the supply-side jesus worshipped back home.

perhaps this combination explains why the locals rarely try to rip me off here. even auto-rickshaw drivers often start me at the correct price. far fewer beggars here as well. the state however has doubled the prices of all things touristy recently. now instead of paying 15 times what the locals pay, i have to pay 30 times. it's a little ridiculous. i even boycotted a few of the national parks.

that what i'm NOT doing here. i'd tell you what i AM doing, but i'm out of time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I'm in my 4th indian state, and "god's own country", kerala. after 2 days, i have yet to find god here, but the place is pleasant enough.

but first, a bit about goa. it was the fiasco i predicted. actually it was even worse than i thought. traveling in a group of 8-20 (depending upon the day) is difficult in the best circumstances, but intolerable when your companions are scatterbrained and/or selfish. plenty (but not all) of my companions showed both traits. the fiasco started in bangalore, where B had one less bus ticket than people who showed up. some attempts were made so assign blame. someone (not me) ended up sleeping in the aisle. i could prattle on with other problems for pages, but wont. at least not now.

though i will mention that the much ballyhooed goan new years was mostly hype. it takes hours to drive the 8km to the "party centers", so we never even ended up going. but i met people who did who described paying $30 or more to enter nightclubs mostly filled with rich tourists from bombay who have come largly to leer at foreigners. and strangely, in this capital of anything-goes hedonism, not once was i offered drugs, which is very very weird. 2 days in "conservative" kerala and i've been offered everything on multiple occasions. i guess the goan drug dealers had their hands full.

but it wasn't all bad by any means. a highlight of goa was the largely vacant beaches in the far north, where i swam with the dolphins and schools of flying fish. in the heart of goa you swim with tourists. lots and lots of them. and a lot of them are fat italian men wearing thong bikinis. i saw more hairy butt/back in one week than anyone should have to see in their entire lives.

motorcycling around goa was also nice, though often the roads were unpleasantly crowded. i drove a large geared bike for the first time. i enjoyed it so much, i'm considering buying a bike and traveling through india that way. especially since my 8am bus to munnar never showed up this morning. hopefully the 11am will. i'd better go check on that now. more on kerala later...

(i'm cheating by posting this here. "outcaste" should be retired now, as the blog premise has changed, but i'm too lazy to make a change just yet.)