Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Varanasi


We're in the holiest and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India - Varanasi. It's supposed to be the craziest, the most spiritual city ever, and I was super excited about it, as well, a little bit worried because I thought if this is the craziest city, how will I feel after it, will everything just look plane like fries without ketchup? To my big luck, I didn't feel anything, no craziness, and no spirituality, Andy loved it though, he said it's a city where you could live in. It has everything you need for a normal life, as well as western food and if you want to get immersed in the culture, just make a trip to the river.
Pretty much everybody we met who's been to Varanasi, got really really sick. Sometimes it went for days, sometimes for weeks, sometimes people ended up in the hospital. There are 2 reasons for that. One, the river Ganga - the holiest river in India, the water is said to come out of Shiva's feet, is the dirtiest thing I've ever seen, and even though restaurants don't use river water for cooking, they do use it for washing the dishes. Another reason is that in the past greedy medical practitioners, made deals with restaurants to put poison in the foreigner’s food to make them sick, then treat them and claim insane amounts of money from the insurance companies. Unfortunately tourists not only got very sick, some of them have even died. We never ever ordered any street food or any freshly squeezed fruit juices and only bought fruits that had to be peeled, drank only bottled water, and ate in the most recommended LP restaurants that were constantly full of tourists. We didn't get sick, and as far as I know, we are in the minority!
I wanted to buy a pashmina. We went to the recommended shop that sold them along with scarves and saris. There are literary thousands of shops selling that staff, but most of them are fake, others don't know English, and still others would hold you in a death grip and won't allow you to leave, if you will leave without buying anything, they'll be terribly upset, and you might hear some unpleasant rambling behind your back. Shopping in India is not enjoyable at all, there is too much pressure to buy and you don't even know the price. For that reason we went to the recommended shop where the owner had perfect English, was polite, calm and relaxed and told us everything there is to know about pashmina. He asked me to rate different qualities of silk, and told me how they're made, and how to test them for purity. He burnt maybe 6 different scarves for me (threads, not whole scarves :) ), letting me see and smell the effect of the fire on the material. Polyester turns and smells like plastic, some others smell like burnt plants, some leave a lot of ash behind, while others leave a very small trace of very fine ash, and that's the one I bought. The best quality ever, with the wool produced in very small section of the world, in high plateaus such as Kashmir, parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there are goats with straight hairs. It didn't take me long to decide on the quality, it took me much much longer to decide on the color. The colors are so beautiful, they're two-sided, and they blend one into another in a perfect unison. When I had some idea on what I liked, he would take another stack of pashminas and spread them all over the gigantic bed (that's how shopping is done in India, on a huuuuge bed!). When I was finally down to 3, it took me another hour to pick the one I liked. He didn't mind though because at that time there were no other clients. When I finally chose the one I liked, which is pink on one side and darker pink on the other side (they don't have to be the same shade. I really like one that was green on one side, and red on the other, but Andy said it looked too Retro style), the owner took my scarf and pulled a thread out of it to do the burning test. A look of horror was in my eyes as he pulled it out, and I had to close my eyes not to watch my scarf being pulled to pieces. It was only in my mind though, it looked just as perfect after 1 thread was missing. He said he wouldn't allow me to buy it unless I'll be sure of its authenticity. I quickly took it and hid it behind my back telling him that he's not allowed to touch my scarf anymore, I trust him and no burning sacrifices have to be further made! :)
Andy thought it's unfair that only I bought an Indian souvenir, and his hands got itchy to spend some money as well. We went into the best known suit store for men where for the strangest reason ever tailor made suits are cheaper than the ones that are already made!! He went with my material choice, and ordered the suit in probably a quarter of time that it took me to choose a pashmina :) It takes them 2 days to make the suit, and it costs $90. If I'll ever need business suits, I'm flying to India! :)
Next day we woke up early to take a 5am boat ride along Ganga to see all the activity at the ghats. It was a very relaxing ride except that at 6am it was already boiling hot. I think I got my revenge on Indians that morning, taking their pictures with them being unable to do absolutely anything about it. Ganga is the holiest river, and people do everything in it. They swim or just dip themselves into it, they wash their cloths, pray, meditate, do yoga, put candles with their wishes, take a shower in it, and I saw some drink it too ... that's disgusting. A sure way to go to heaven fast!
What can be holier than the holiest river in the holiest city? Indians believe in reincarnation. If you do well in this life, in the next life, you'll be born into a higher class, and if you do badly, you can be reborn as an animal or an insect. To die or to be buried in Varanasi releases you from the cycle or reincarnation and you will hopefully go to heaven. Along our walk near the ghats we stopped near a burning ghat where dead bodies are paraded through the city streets while chatting ram ram ram ram and then burnt in the public view. One of the guys who worked there came to talk to us and explain the process. 5 kinds of people can NOT be burnt, and they are children, pregnant women, sadhus (holy men), people who died from a snake bite and lepers. The reason is that they are already blessed and pure (snake is one of Shiva's symbols), but burning lepers can spread the disease around, so instead they are tied to the rock and sunk into the river. If a person who's dying has a wish to be burnt in Varenasi, the family members better fulfill their wish, otherwise the spirit will come and hunt them. The body is walked through the streets, then dipped into the holy water of Ganga to cleanse it and to remove the bad karma. It's then placed on 350 kgs of wood (different wood costs different price with sandal wood being the most expensive) with average price about $80. It's massaged by 5 different oils, and then relatives put more water on it, and walk around the body 5 times for the symbols of water, air, fire, earth and soul. Women are not allowed in the ghat because they are too emotional and if they'll cry, then their sorrow will not allow the soul to go to nirvana or even worse they will jump into the fire themselves. The body is then set alight. It actually burns much slower than I anticipated. A few minutes later the feet come towards each other, and the arms spring up 90 degrees with fingers in a spasm like position. It takes about 3 hours to burn. An hour later the skull is smashed by one of the relatives (usually a husband or a brother) and that's when the soul is released. 3 hours later all that's left are the strongest bones in the body, the rib cage of a man and hip bones of a woman. These bones are then picked up by the relative and are thrown into the river. And that's the cycle of life, fish eat the bones, people eat the fish, dogs and goats eat the remainder of the body which didn't burn. Once the ash had time to cool down, the untouchables (people who burn the bodies) collect the jewelry that comes from the burnt corpses and sell them on the market. Pretty good job because when people are getting burnt, they put the best cloths and the best jewelry for such a special occasion.
Pictures of the ghats are strictly prohibited, but I still managed to take a few. At some time taking blind guesses, at others using Andy as a shield. These still didn't turn out to be that great, so some of the pictures I copied from the internet.
At night time we went to one of the holiest ghats. For a few days me and Andy had some arguments, our honeymoon was over. I guess it's hard to be with a person 24/7 right away without even knowing anything about the other person. We come from different backgrounds, we had different upbringing, different believes, different types of friends. Once he told me that a guy with a mo-hock was so popular in the bar, all girls went for him! Mo-hock??? Yeeeewwuuu ... I don't know a single girl who would go for a guy with a mo-hock! The only thing we have in common is the ability to drive each other crazy ... not on purpose of course. I once asked him how we managed to travel that long together, and he said that probably we take advantage in hanging out with a person with whom we'd never hang out in our regular lives ... I guess it's true. We had another argument at the ghat, and I left to watch the activity around the river alone. Andy then came and gave me a candle for me to make a wish (how very nice of him considering the circumstances). We lit it up, and I put it in the river wishing for understanding.  Later on we became a part of a ceremony. I'm not sure what this ceremony was all about, but it involved a guy all dressed up standing on a very pretty table with a bunch of items on them, doing 7 motions with the hand in 4 directions, repeating the procedure with every item, and there are LOTS of items! Something smoky, then a steel cobra vessel, something that looks like a mop, a shell ... I was bored out of my mind! I rested my head on my hand only to be approached by some dude and telling me to clap. We then chanted and clapped some more, then we were given flowers and went to the river to throw them in the water. Then a line up formed for people to be blessed but at that time we made our escape. I think watching this ceremony from a balcony of a restaurant is much more entertaining!
Next day we decided to take a day off of each other. One day we're separate, and people already wonder what happened. The owner of the guest house, the waiter in the restaurant, everybody has to stick their nose into our business. While I was in the restaurant and having the best apple pie with ice cream and a frappe, I noticed that I'm all covered in ash. The dead people are now a part of me.
I went to get a pedicure which was loooong overdue. I actually thought that I shouldn't get one in India because there is an actual use of elephant skin. You have to take your shoes off at every temple and in a lot of stores, and most of the time the surface is boiling hot or uneven with rocks, and a delicate skin would not do well in these conditions. But my heels got so permanently black that it was embarrassing! I took a shower before leaving, and besides sitting in the restaurant, it was a total of a 5 minute walk. When I put my feet into the hot water of the bucket, the water turned black. She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed my feet, but they were still black. She would put the tool down, look at my foot, shake her head and pick it up again to scrub some more. I can't even say anything, and I look down. She tells me not to worry because the French women and Canadian women and German women all have very very dirty feet. Hey!!! Our feet are not dirty always, they are just dirty because of India. When I travelled for 1.5 years in South America and Africa, my feet were perfect without any pedicures. Then she pointed at my newly surfacing hair on my legs and asked me if I shave. Of course I shave I replied. She shook her head again ... no, no, women should wax, shaving is only for men!
I walked for 2km along the river and ghats. In these 2kms, I haven't met one single woman and even though it was in the early afternoon, the walk felt very sketchy. I walked under the bridges where barely alive people were waiting to die. They don't have money to be burnt, and just to die in Varanasi is a dream. Some look like they should definitely be dead already, but they just lie there as skinny as a skeleton with a pack of flies around them, waiting for their time. Some who don't wish to wait either jump and drown in the river or commit suicide.
It was half an hour before I had to meet Andy in the suit shop to give him my approval look :) Getting out wasn't as easy as I expected. First of all, I got lost in the winding and intertwining and looping and dead end little alleys packed with thousands of people. I finally got out onto the main street only to find out that it's closed to traffic, and I had to fight yet another thousand people to get to a tuk-tuk gathering spot. Of course when they saw a white face, they intended to charge me 200 rps to go 2 kms. I told them that Varanasi should be the holiest city in India, and they should behave like they're in one. And that they'll have a bad karma ripping tourists off and that they should take a dip in the Ganga to cleanse themselves! I was angry! I finally found a cycle rickshaw for 40 and by the time I run into the store, I was half an hour late. 3 men who worked in the store, stood in a line and stretch-pointed their arms in the direction of a fitting room where Andy was waiting for me. So so so sooooo sorry!!! Andy doesn't wear suits, and it was weird seeing him in one, but hopefully he'll find some use in it, and it won't just collect dust in the closet.
Dead people burning is not the only kind of burning happening in India: (LP) In the middle class the woman is far more likely to receive a tertiary education, but once married is still usually expected to fit in with her in-laws and be a homemaker above all else. Like her village counterpart, if she fails to live up to expectations - even if it's just not being able to produce a grandson - the consequences can sometimes be dire, as demonstrated by the extreme practice of "bride burning" wherein a wife is doused with flammable liquid and set alight. Another reason for a wife to be set alight (as in a cooking "accident") is for the son to get remarried again to receive another dowry.
I got some mean looks when I took pictures of people praying in the ghats, and I was told to delete some pics of the burning ghats when one guy caught me watching them on my camera. I refused. I don’t believe in curses, but I do believe that this time I was cursed, since the next two days we went through hell.

Comments are appreciated :)

pix at: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Varanasi

Friday, 27 July 2012

Khajuraho


We finally arrived at a more or less touristic town of Khajuraho. First time in a long time we saw white people, I got so excited, I almost run up to them and asked to take a picture :)
Since it's a touristic place, the touts and sellers make their reappearance. It's so funny to sit in a restaurant, seeing one single white person through the crowd and 3 sellers running after him shoving whatever they're selling into his face when he tries to choose a direction to run away in :) Of course that would mean that we're certainly bound to the same fate as soon as we step our foot outside. But all this hassle doesn't bother me anymore, I think I got immune to it, like a tank. I just say "I don't want anything, leave us alone!", keep on walking and ignoring any further attempts at hard sale, they soon smarten up and leave us alone. Some man started running after me, I turned around and said in a very harsh tone "Stop chasing us!!!" He was taken aback and asked me if I'm mad at him, I said a little. "Please don't be mad at me!", "ok" I answered walking away and smiling :) While walking on the road 3 people pointed at a tuk-tuk and said "tuk-tuk!", Andy and me almost in unison said "Very beautiful tuk-tuk!" :)) Ahhh ... life is good when you take their hassle as a joke. I wonder if my experience in Goa would've been different if I was immune to it then. But then of course, you can't compare anything to the hell of Goa.
We took bicycles to nearby temples. Most of the gods' faces were removed by the Muslims because Hindus can't pray to a god without a face. Thank god they didn't actually destroy the temples themselves. Temples like that don't exist anywhere in the world, they're world heritage site for a reason, and there is a lot of up keeping and reconstruction going on. A man in the temple showed us around and only because he didn't ask for any money when we were leaving, we gave him some money. We reward good deeds and not greed. While we were cycling around a bunch of local kids joined us, they pushed my bike up the hills, looked after our bikes while we were looking around. We were worried that they'll ask for a heavy donation, but nope, they just wanted to be/feel cool next to the white people. Andy was walking shirtless to get some even tan, everybody was giving him comments, nice body, nice tattoo (he has a small weird tail of some sort :) ... well, actually a part of unfinished design), beautiful beard :)) They couldn’t understand why would he want to tan? He said that he wants to be just like them, nice and dark! They’re in shock, they do everything in their power to be more fare skinned, when we just throw our gift of god the moment we forget to put our sunscreen on.
They took us to their village where people were taking the water out of the well, carrying many wood sticks on their heads and spreading dung in front of the house for good luck and to repel mosquitoes. I played badminton with the kids using a broken racquet. They were fighting who would have an honour to give me the ball when it flew away. I also tried not to look too disgusted when the ball landed in a pile of dung :) Very good kids, and now that I left India (I'm a bit behind on the blog), I wish that I would've stayed in some village to get closer to the culture. People we're usually dealing with (tuk-tuk drivers/sellers etc... ) and actual people of India who could care less about tourist money, are two different categories, and I wish I got to know it closer.
While walking in the town Andy bought a 600 year old coin from a Mughal period. So beautiful!!! I tried to make him convert it into a pendant, but he for some reason refused :( What a great conversation starter it would be :) I wanted to buy one for myself, but I didn't because it belonged to a not very favourite empire of mine. Instead I bought a puja coin (coin used in prayer and blessings). It doesn't have any actual monetary value to it, mostly it's for good luck. We were randomly strolling around when we came into the store and didn't have any money to pay for the coins. I couldn't believe my ears when the seller told us to take the coins and to come to the shop any time we want to with the money! Was I hallucinating??!!
In the evening, as any married couple should, we had a date night :) That means we actually wore nice cloths and went to a nice restaurant. India is so dirty and so traditional that to wear nice cloths is almost impossible, and we also travel on budget and eat in the local restaurants. Once in a while we want to dress up properly and treat ourselves to something that doesn't smell like curry. Thankfully the restaurant was directly opposite our hotel, and I practically ran across the road in my short dress and heels feeling very vulnerable and naked :)
Next day we went to the main attraction the "Western temples". I took an audio guide and went to explore. These temples are very famous not only because they're carved out of their minds, but also because a lot of these carvings are not only erotic but very sexually explicit. There are couples and threesomes and foursomes, orgies, masturbation, different angles/positions, sex with animals, taking a shower with a cloths seductively glued to the woman, hickey ... well yeah, that's about all :) The audio guide said that sex is a way of connecting with god as one if you completely surrender to the act and in that moment forget that anything else exists. Another theory stated that these carvings taught ordinary people how to have sex ... you know, so they'll be closer to god :) But on most of these temples the carvings are a way of life, farming, fighting, gathering food, preparing food, and I don't think they should teach people to have sex with animals ... I think it just happened, so they carved them to be part of the life story.
These temples and kamasutra made me think. How come kamasutra and the sexiest gods ever originated in such an oppressed country, where even the husbands don't see their wives naked? We came up with a theory that when something is hidden/forbidden/looked down on, your brain begins to wonder and imagination runs wild...
Other things I remembered from the audio tour are the reason for so many temples. It was a king’s duty to build so many temples for his people to pray in. The more temples, the better the king. There are also victory temples and gifts for say someone's hand in marriage.
At the top of the stairs near the temples entrance there are always half moon figures so that the people will enter the temple humble. Just like a half moon is not perfect, nobody's perfect as well.
My tour took a long time, and Andy was sitting under the tree shade reading a book. When I came to sit next to him, he thanked me for coming because a group of Indians approached him, took his pictures and were asking him the usual questions. When he said that his wife is somewhere around, they couldn't believe him. Why is he not with me? Why is he sitting there all by himself? "We value personal freedom" answer was given, to which they said or thought "nonsense"! When I showed up, they actually believed him that I exist. One of the guys wanted to take a picture, but I don't take pictures anymore, even if they ask politely. There are just that many pictures that I could take. However with this one, I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine, and started firing questions at him. What's your name? Where are you from? Where do you live? How do you like Khajuraho? Who are you here with? Where do you work? What do you do? He got so nervous and was stumbling on his answers and sweating in cold sweat :) Ok, fine, he deserved a picture :) The problem with taking pictures though, is when someone else will see you do it, everybody in 1 km radius will run up to us and ask to take pictures. I think if we were charging $1/photo, we could've travelled around India for free :)
I have to give it to Andy though. He would stop and smile for every picture. He would answer the same questions hundreds of times without tiring and showing the same enthusiasm each time. Unless you can have a proper conversation with me, all you'll get out of me is yes/no one word answers without taking my eyes off a book ... ok, sometimes I'm in a better mood ... but not often.
On the train we were attacked by an extremely eager group of men.
Can I see your book?
No
Why not, I want to see it
He grabbed it from my hand, I grabbed it back.
Who's he?
My husband
They had a decency not to talk to me because I'm married, and all their focus shifted to him. The usual questions about laptop ... no, just a book! Australia and cricket, then one guy got a hold of Andy's beer holder.
Can I have it?
No
But I want it!
But it's mine
Thank god they got off at the next station!

pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Khajuraho

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Tala


Good thing about travelling together is being able to get the information much much quicker. It's already normal for us to come to a bus station, split (without even talking or giving any signals to each other) and then meet at the bus. Luckily we were given the last 2 seats, even though they said that we can't board the bus anymore. They didn't think that we can stand for an hour and instead we should take a bus that will be leaving 3 hours later. Not so easy mister, excuse us, as non stupid tourists are coming though! As usual getting to a place is more interesting as staying there. And our morning begins with yet another travel day. Indians are not used to travelling, well, maybe by trains, but not even that. The road coming down the mountain was in a good shape, and only little bit winding. I'm not good with winding roads, but here I didn't feel anything at all, except something wet on my arm. Is it raining?? No, it's only a girl on the front seat with her head out of the window losing all her breakfast :S
Indian men love to color their nails for some reason. They wouldn't wear high heels or lipstick ... sometimes they'll color their eyes black, but usually any red color would be either their pan rotten teeth or their nails. They also grow them, and some of them are very very long I’m assuming to get to as far as they can up their noses to scratch their brains :)
When the bus stopped, the porter found me no problem and asked me to pay 50 rps to roll my suitcase 50 meters to the train station. Get away from me you thief!
On the train there was no space at all, and we put our luggage next to the toilets in the general class. The train was overbooked, and in the 3 square meters space, there were 12 people and just as much oversized luggage. One guy started talking to me, at first normal conversation, and he looked educated, properly clothed, but it didn't take him long to ask me to show him nude pictures of me on my camera! WHAT??? First of all, I don't have any nude pictures of me on my camera, second of all, are you dumb?? Who are you for me to show you anything even if I had anything to show!!?? Then he asked me for my breasts size, telling me that his wife's is 33 cm. OMG! And that's meanwhile Andy is sitting right next to me reading a book. He then took a picture of me, of course without my permission. I covered my face and gave him a lecture on his rude behaviour. He apologized. He then wanted to check my camera out, which I didn't give him, and then asked me if my Ray Ban glasses are real or fake. I said real, in response to that, he took them from me and dragged his nail on the lens to see if it will scratch. Jesus christ ... what the hell is wrong with these people!!! ????
On the next station, I just randomly went into an empty ticket counter, so strange, an empty one, it must be the wrong counter. But they like to help tourists, and even if you're in the wrong spot, they'd still be able to help you. I bought 2 tickets to the next town and the train was leaving in 1 minute. Lucky us! We run into the platform knocking everybody on the way, and got into a random wagon while the whistle was blowing (meaning the train will start moving any second now). The thing with India is that the people can look at you and see that you need space to pass, but they'll just look and won't do anything. I usually walk right up to them and tell them to move, if they don't move, the suitcase is rolling on their feet. Now they have more motivation to move. If the train/bus is over packed, just put a suitcase in the door, and keep pushing it in, squeezing everybody inside. Locals do it too, so don't think that I'm a lunatic :) Even where there is no space at all, there is space for all.
On the train as usual, Andy got attacked by a bunch of questions mostly concerning his kindle. Nobody can believe it's not a notebook, and they have to check to make sure, and probably more unbelievable is the fact that why would you carry an electronic thing whose only purpose is to display books when nobody in India reads anything ... what a waste! The conversations in very broken English and mostly pantomime started leading to our relationship. If we're married, if we have a baby, I laugh and say "with him, never!" :) Then one guy does many circles with his hand and very fast shoots his index finger to the roof? Huh??? He repeats the motion by circling his index finger near his face and shooting it up! Hm ... interesting ... we call for a backup for someone who knows more English than him for a translation, apparently it meant "How many years we've been married?" :)) Um ... we didn't go that far into making up our marriage story, so I just looked at Andy and let him answer. Now I know, we've been married for 1 year on April 27th ... or something. I was arguing with Andy that we should've set the date to April 1st which I think is very appropriate :) But he insisted that it would be on his birthday cause this way he could remember it. Well he could ... but I can't, I'm terrible at remembering dates :S They kept digging into his/ours private lives when I went and sat at the open door of the train enjoying the sunset.
We arrived at the very friendly kumkum lodge. The crazy bus driver asked us where we're going and dropped us off right at the entrance to the lodge. First time in a long time we've heard phrases like "You're very welcome" or "Please sit down". It was nice talking to the owner, except that he talked too much giving very vague answers, so in a short time I got a headache and headed to the room. Tala is located inside a national park, and during the course of a day I found 3 spiders sitting on me, and we had a pet frog in our bathroom.
This national park is the best place in India and probably in the world to spot a tiger, not only it's the best place, it's also the best month of the year (May) to spot a tiger. Safaris are super expensive and the whole day we went from hotel to hotel trying to see if there are more people going to a safari. We couldn't find anybody, and the stupid thing is that a jeep fits 6 people (and the price is per jeep), but if someone does an online booking even for 4 people, that's it, the jeep is full, and nobody else is allowed in. All the people did online bookings. We waited another day, but no luck. One Indian guy in the hotel said that he doesn't really want to go to a tour, but if we agreed he could go, and give us some money. Of course some money is better than no money and we agreed to go. It was nice that while we were in the room he showed up with a bag of cookies, chips and pepsi as a thank you :)
I set the alarm for 4:00am. The phone saves 6 different alarms. I look at it, and all the alarms are set at stupid times, 3am, 4:40am, 7pm ... travelling is hard, it's not a vacation!
In the morning we wake up and drive to the gate. There are so many jeeps already standing in the lineup. Where did that many people come from? During the day, the streets are completely deserted!
The safari was very nice. It's one of the best ones I did. We saw so many animals, but most of them were deers. Many many peacocks. And 1 was dancing for the 2 ladies. I've never seen that in my life, although I've probably seen 100s peacocks. Many different kinds of birds and animal sounds. The animals are scared of the jeeps so they would run and leap across the road, it's must more interesting than just to see them eating. We saw something on the road, something brown. The jeep sped up and at that moment 1 bear disappeared into the bushes. We haven't seen it initially, but there were 2 bears, and the 2nd one was a bit slower to run, but when it saw us, it almost run on the spot, picking up all the dust in the air and with crazy speed run into the bushes. That was awesome!! :))
We drove around and around, 4 hours in total, but we've seen no tigers :(
I was extremely disappointed, the best place in the world, the best time of the year, and no tigers. We couldn't afford another safari, since 1 safari was equivalent to our weekly budget, and with a heavy heart we left Tala :(
That's when I thought that if you guys enjoy reading the blog, and make a small contribution of 50 cents, it would accumulate over time and would give me an opportunity to see these amazing things which are just outside the budget zone.
The drive back was unbelievably different than the ride into Tala. We changed 2 buses which were so relaxing and comfortable. No honking, soft music was playing, if only every bus in India will be like that.
Relaxing bus rides ended up in not so relaxing tuk-tuk drive to the train station. I wish I filmed it. I've been to India long enough now, and took too many tuk-tuk rides, and I'm telling you that this one beat them all. Surprisingly, we weren't scared at all. Indians are masters on the road. If a foreigner would get behind the wheel, I'm sure he wouldn't last more than a minute, but we've barely seen any accidents in India.
At the train station, 1 guy helped me twice with the luggage. I needed to get it over the railing to get to the ticket office. When I came back, he just saw me and followed me to help me over the railing again. He said that it's a pleasure to help a guest in his country. It's a pleasure to be a guest :)

Donations are most welcomed on paypal: yanasizonenko@yahoo.com

pix at https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Tala

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Mandu and Pachmahi


The next stop was another small town of Mandu. On the map it was so nearby, but after changing yet again 4 buses, I started banging Andy on the head with an empty water bottle. Why does it take 7 hours to cover 80 kms???? I refuse to believe it !!! The whole bus was laughing at me. I was laughing too. Travel days are part of travelling and part of the whole experience. 
Mandu is surprisingly charming and extremely clean town. I found myself walking with garbage in my hands looking for a garbage can. Usually when you eat something, you just throw it out wherever you finished eating. Few times I gave up, and threw it in the drain on the side of the road. The town is perfect. From our guest house, it's a 10 second walk to the main square which has one of the main monuments, all the restaurants, fruits/veggies are sold there, and the buses stop there. No walking required, everything is located 10 seconds away! :)
We went to the same restaurant the whole time. We tried another one. They sat us down, gave us a big menu. Assured us that their restaurant is always open. We start to order, they say no. I order something else, they say no. I point to next item and next item ... no, no. They can't say that we don't have soups or we don't have tandoori items. They would just shake their head in a no whenever I would point to anything.
- Ok ... what do you have then?
He skips all the pages, and shows us that they have rice. Lemon rice, anis rice. Grrrr ... thank you very much! What's the point of keeping an open restaurant when all you serve is rice??
We went to another restaurant for breakfast. Andy wanted curd. We call the waiter, make our orders, and he said:
A: Small curd please
W: We don't have small, only big
A: No, we want small
W: Small is not possible
A: That's ok ... can we just have a small curd please

I was laughing so hard. Andy said that I must have rubbed it on him :) Like in the restaurant in Omkareshwar, when I only ordered half a portion, cause we couldn't agree on what we want to share, and a whole portion was too much for me. He mimics me:
Y: I want just half a portion
W: Not possible
Y: Everything's possible! I want half, shoo, shoo now :))
Oh Andy, he came a long way from the Andy that I met in Varkala who bought sun bleached/glue stained pants for double the price, and for whom I had to do all the negotiations :)
I don't understand the problem with these restaurants anyway. These are mom & pop restaurants. They don't have a computer that print exact prices. They can do anything you ask them, yet they make a big deal of putting less curd on the plate. Why is that?
This restaurant never had small change. Pretty much all restaurants and stores have big containers of different candies near the counter which cost 1 rp. If the shop doesn't have change, and in quite a few occasions that's the case, you'd get your change back and some candies with the bills. I love these candies, so I don't mind. But in this restaurant they would bring back cookies. They're terrible. I'll send the cookies back. They'll bring me chocolate. I tried it, but it was just as bad as the cookies, next time I sent them back too. I want toffee. I’d just take the chocolate, open the fridge, put it back, open the jar of candies, and take 5 candies out. They just wiggled their heads :)
Next day I was feeling sick the whole day, and didn't get out of bed :(
There was a man outside our balcony. They're all very curious and ask questions even if they don't speak a word of English. He wanted water, and Andy gave him the bottle. It's safe to give locals to drink your stuff because they just pour it in their mouth without touching the bottle with their lips. But just like that girl in the train who asked if she could have some water and ended up drinking the whole bottle, this guy too, drank some, washed his mouth, and pretty much spit half of the bottle on the ground :)
Went to the monuments. These were unbelievable! So many of them! It was some king’s palace and a harem holding 3000 women. He loved water, pools and fountains, and there were uncountable number of them carved in different shapes. The whole place would look completely different if there was water now, and the fountains were working. I liked ruined buildings much more than the ones in good condition. It was like finding gems among ruins, such as faded paintings, carved shapes, some original paint and stone work. I found a baby owl who was moving its head in the same direction as I moved mine :) There were many bats, thousands of them in some room. The noise and the smell was overbearing. I stuck my camera inside, standing beside the wall of the opening, and took a picture with a flash. I thought all of them would go crazy and fly out of the hole, but they didn't. So I took a few pictures, hopefully not disturbing their sleep too much.
On the little bus back, the children in one house stuck their faces through all the windows and were waving us goodbye. We were waving goodbye ... well actually more Andy than me, you know my love for kids. Byyyeeeeee, they're waving, the adults have joined too. Andy put his hat out of the window, and was waving it goodbye. Bbyyyyeee they yell, bbbyyyyyyeee we wave. They must have yelled byyeee at least 20 times before the bus moved. The bus started moving, they started yelling faster. Quick quick Andy wave the hat, quicker, quicker!!!
We took a sleeper night bus, and our sleeper space was at the very back of the bus. I don't think we slept a minute out of the whole night. We were flying and flying. This was definitely a flying bus, not a road bus. I fell asleep a little bit, when got woken up at 1am by somebody playing music on his phone. I picked my head out. "Turn the music off!!!". Where the hell are their brains?? Some times when I was flying, I would land on Andy. oooopppsss ... sowwwyyy. I was trying to hold on to him, thinking that with our combined body mass we would fly less. We would constantly end up in the middle of the bed (length wise), and would have to crawl back up. In the morning, the road became smooth and we finally nodded off. Someone knocked on our cubicle bed thingi, Andy got up in a hurry, put on his shoes, and jumped down. Are we there? Oh no no sir, you can take a picture of this beautiful view! What can I say ... Andy was not too happy :))
By the morning it felt like our brains were smashed into mashed potatoes texture, and then blended just to be sure that it's completely screwed up. We couldn't understand much of what was going on, talk to anybody or do anything that even when the bus went tulululululu, Andy asked me "What did you say?" Me: It wasn't me it was the bus!
Speaking about buses. The buses in India are a whole different set of buses. First of all, ALL the buses, and pretty much all heavy vehicles have a hand drawn flowery "Horn OK" sign painted on the back. People here don't use mirrors, or signals, so when you overtake, you always sound a horn. And it's not just a small beep. It's the longest, the loudest beeeeeeep, and not only beep, most buses are equipped with special beeping sounds like trululu lu lu lu, tra la la pa la la, it's like moving music boxes, not buses. They also have different sounds for more distant objects, they'd be the louder ones, and for the nearer ones. At the bus stations, they yell the destination 100s of times walking around and around the bus. They would stick all body out of the door and yell the destination on a completely empty street, and they would yell it so fast that you would have no idea where they're going. They would whistle to the driver when to stop and when to go, and it would become such a habit, that even when there is only 1 person on the bus, the assistant would whistle as loud as he can to start moving again. These assistants are very helpful though, cause they'll get you to the right destination and would usually show you the next bus.

We arrived at Pachmahi. The only reason we picked it was because it's a hill station, and we were tired from the heat. It also had waterfalls and natural swimming pools, but it was still hot, and there were 100s of people in not something that I would call a pool. As always in non touristic places, it took us forever to find a hotel. They have something against foreigners. I'm sure that not all of the hotels all over the sudden are full. We somehow got out in the afternoon to go for walk. The road along that walk was full of gods, and very very ugly gods too. I think they should take some design courses. We got into some temple on the way, when we walked off, somebody yelled behind us hello, hello, hello. As always we walked off not turning around. They chased us and gave us a coconut. Awwww ... how cute :))
Cars stopped on the way to shake Andy's hand and ask him for his good name :)
Next day we went to breakfast. I couldn't take my eyes off of the video clips that were playing on TV. One thing that Indians can do very very well is music videos. So colorful, the dance combinations are original, unique and fun, they all dance in unison, and I as a dancer can really appreciate it. I even bought a dvd. Hopefully it will be good :)
My video watching was interrupted by one big noisy family. Everybody was screaming at each other. I don't know who was worse, the kids yelling or the parents yelling at the kids. I don't blame the kids anymore, if they misbehave, its parents fault!
We had to rent bikes to see the sights around. We walked in circles and there are no bikes for rent. Finally we found a guy. He said that he'll open in a few hours. No no no, few hours will not do, I tell him. We need a bike NOW! He goes and opens the shop, turns out that he didn't want to open the shop that day cause one of his friends died.  Sorry :(
We needed to get a permit since we were in the national park. At the place, a guide approaches us and tells us that the guide is compulsory. I tell him that no we're fine without the guide. He tries to convince us that we must have a guide. We ask him, what are you gonna run behind us while we ride on the bikes? In LP it says that guides are compulsory for jeep tours, but doesn't mention anything about bikes. We wait in the line to get a ticket. He comes and says to buy the tickets here. Thanks for the info! He asks us where we're gonna go. We say, bee falls, he repeats, aaahhhh beeeee faaaalls, the caves ... aaahhhh the caves. Nice guide. What we need him for again? Andy said that not everything they say is a lie! I would argue otherwise. When we reach the ticket counter, the agent asks us how we're getting around, we said bikes. He gave us the permit not problem. "Oh really, not everything they say is a lie! Just about 99% of it!!"
At the bee falls it was sooo crowded. It wasn't even falls, I don't know what people are doing coming to this place. I had to wait 10 mins for a girl to change back into her sari. Then I had to change into shorts and a t-shirt, cause you can't swim in a swimming suit :S When I got out, there was no line up at all, just 1 girl pushed the door open, and was shoving herself between me and the door. Jesus, chill out, nobody's gonna throw you out of the imaginary line up!!! When I got out, Andy was already surrounded by a few guys staring into his kindle. Every time is the same story. Is this a laptop, no, it's a book. Just a book. Yes, just a book. And then they'll start pushing their fingers at it, to make sure it's not a laptop. Thank god they were ignoring me. I was sitting somewhere on the rocks and watching the fish eating me alive :) There were like 50 fish at each foot, nibbling on the skin. Nice, I'm way overdue on a pedicure! :)
Next we went to some caves and then a fairy pool. This pool was "better" because there was no road leading to it, which means you actually have to walk about a km downhill, and then back uphill, and since most Indians are lazy and hate walking, when we got there, we almost had the pool for over selves :) Indians have this very annoying quality of pressuring you to do something when you don't want to do it. One guy was constantly offering me pepsi, at least 5 times, and that's even after I told him that I don't drink soft drinks. There was this other guy in the pool calling me in to swim. I'm not ready to swim yet, I just want to sit on the rock and splash my feet in the water. Why won't you swim? I don't want to swim. Come and swim! I don't want to swim! Do you know how to swim? Yes. Come and swim ... Jesus, why are you always pressuring people to do something? I said that I don't want to swim!!! Ok, ok, don't get mad. We talked for like 5 minutes, and he said that I'm so beautiful and he wants to marry someone like me. I pointed out that he doesn't even know my name. Anyway, he said that he'll never forget me as long as he lives! How can you say that when my "husband" is only a few meters away? He works in the office for the government, and said that all the politicians are corrupt, and if you are not, everybody will just think of you as a fool. He takes money for every signature, I think he's an engineer.
Another guy said that he hates politicians because they're so corrupt! They ruined the whole country! But who does he want to be? A policeman of course to make more money! You're a hypocrite I say, and he said if in cricket India wins against Pakistan 4 to 1, so 90% of India is corrupt, you can't win against it. Whatever sense that makes!
Even though I'm complaining a little bit, I still like India. I love the dirty but happy children; the food left for the cows to eat; the unending hospitality; the pleasure and laugher in the simple things; the thousand of rituals popping out at random places; for always helping me; for always making space; for accepting; for curiosity.

I've read a few books about India. I truly recommend them. For someone who doesn't get the full depth and intensity of India from my blog, these books do an excellent job at it. I give each one of them 5+ stars! :)

Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald - A true story about a girl who lived in India for 2 years. It's more suitable for females as it is quite feminist. It's very funny and I loved it because I could feel everything she was going through.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - Another true story written by a guy who lived in Mumbai slums. Excellent writing style, and you wouldn't believe that all those things actually happened to him.

Pix at https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/ManduPachmahi

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Omkareshwar

After a hell bus, came a hell of a hotel. The second we stepped out of the bus and took our bags, it started pouring like crazy. We hid in a police station where they kindly provided us with some broken chairs, and we sat in the spot from where it didn't drip too much from the roof. There was no way of going to Omkareshwar that day, even though it was only 6km away. The policemen showed us to the nearest guesthouse. O.M.G!! I don't think I've stayed in the dirtier place than that. All the walls were black with dried up things that spilled on them, the floor was concrete, and there were 2 used condoms in the washroom with a bucket of something black and slimy inside it. I had to take a shower after the journey, but Andy skipped it. I slept fully clothed, cause the feeling of touching the bed with sheets that weren't probably washed in a month just grossed me out.
In the morning we got a short bus ride to Omkareshwar. At the bus station which was huge for such a small town, we were approached by a 15 year old kid who works in the guest house where we were going. He said it's 2 kms away, and I didn't feel like walking that much, so we took a taxi. 500 meters later and we're there. Initially we agreed for 50 rps, which is already too much for that distance, but once we got there, we took our luggage out, and said that it wasn't 2 kms, so we're not paying 50 rps, they argued and we argued, at the end we turned around and walked away without paying anything. The kid run to his father who's the owner of the hotel and was crying to him. I respectfully told him what happened. He took out a 20 rp note, and gave it to his son so he'll pay the taxi and told us that 20 will do. 20 did do :)
We got out of the guesthouse to walk around. What a change! Everybody's super friendly, but mostly people don't know English, nobody's trying to sell us anything or drag us into their shops. Andy said that might as well use the opportunity to actually see what they're selling :) They weren't selling anything exciting, and of course everybody sells exactly the same things as the store nearby, or should I say the same things on the street, or same things in the whole town? … country????
Now is a crop planting season, and it seems that the landscape is filled with dry cow dung patties for fertilization. In the town too, some shops were completely full with a huge pile of dung patties. Andy took a picture of one of them. The woman adjusted her hair, and her sari, and stood very proudly near her big pile of shit ... it was too funny :)
We took a rest day. We were so exhausted from travelling around. We move every second day, and every second day it takes the whole day to get somewhere. We sat at the shaded restaurant in the guest house where they turned a fan above our table and read the whole day. We just got for a dinner.
Next day, same thing. Rest day! The water bottle that we were drinking had just a little bit of water in it, and because of the fan it was moving around the table, it looked like it was dancing. We were singling and clapping to it :) Aaaahh ... the simple joys of life :) We are miserable in the heat, but we're also happy in it. There is no escaping it, so might as well enjoy it in any way we can. I think we started to appreciate small things much much more.
In the hotel, it seems that everybody, including the dog has a full time job of chasing the monkeys away who eat flowers, open sugar, throw everything on the floor, tearing posters, and trying to get into the kitchen. I don't know who does more damage, the monkeys or the staff who throw chairs at them, not hitting the monkeys but breaking the chairs. The dog would be funny. He was so scared of the monkey that while there was nobody around, he would lye lazily and watch monkeys misbehave, but as soon as he'll see someone running with a stick, right away he'd be on all his fours, barking and growling like crazy running the length of the fence back and forth :)
We were eating mangos, when a monkey jumped on the table walked towards us, took a seed and happily ate it. When he came back for another seed, Andy shooed it away with his hand. The monkey got on his 2 feet, growled and showed his teeth. Thank god somebody came running with a stick!
While travelling in the central (and very traditional) part of India, and especially after the Hyderabad incident, we figured out that to say that we're married would be the best choice. They don't understand how a guy and a girl can be together and only be friends, so just to avoid confusion and too many questions, and of course much more for my personal safety, we decided that it's the way to go. Sometimes when I was by myself and some guy would start talking to me, I'd say, sorry got to go to meet my frie ... um ... husband. I'm so not used to being married! :))
At our guesthouse we had a funny conversation. Andy said that we should go and buy some fruits.
Y: Since when did "I" become a "we" ... you know, we're not really married :) And besides you never do anything nice to me, so you go and get some fruits.
A: What do you mean? I'm always nice to you!
Y: You're being delusional!
A: Is that the "best of the best" in Russian?
Y: As a wife I should be supportive of everything you do, and I'm very supportive of you buying the fruits and making the fruit salad :)
A: Fine! ... he gets up ...
Y: *cough" delusional :))

We went to the same restaurant for dinner. It was the best restaurant in town, and it stood out a lot from the other hole in the wall joints. On the sign it said, "Good food for a good cause". We got in, and there were about 10 kids sitting at the table having 1 chapati on their plate. They were given ketchup, and 1 kid started laughing and pouring a lot on his chapati. He was approached by a yelling owner who put a little drop in the middle of the chapati, yelled some more, and the kids just ate it quietly while looking down at their plates. (Chapati is a flat bread like a pita, but a little bit thinner) … hopefully the cause was better than the food!
 The boss took a liking at us, and ordered his staff to serve us like we were kings. He was shouting at everybody, FASTER, FASTER!!!! He demanded that service just for us, while ignoring everybody else in the restaurant. When the food came, he was standing and watching me eat it to make sure that I like it, when I said that I did, and it was one of the best foods I had in a while, he showed up with a team of his waiters and a chef.
"Yana, this is our chef!" he said proudly. One of the waiters patted the chef on the back when they stood there all grinning. The chef came forward and shook my hand. I told him that he did an excellent job with all the meals we've had. The owner translated that to him and he gave me an even bigger grin and bowed down to me. What an honour to serve foreign people! You guys would never understand it :) When we were closer to finish our meal, the owner suddenly reappeared and was humming to his staff. Hm he head pointed to an empty cup. The cup was taken away. Hhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, he head pointed to an empty chapati plate. The plate was taken away. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ... he pointed to something else that was barely visible near the wall and didn't bother us at all. When I got up to wash my hands I heard a yell, I turned around and almost jumped back in surprise. There was already a napkin shoved in my hands, so that I could dry my hands with it. When I got out, the door was held open for me accompanied by a smile, happy head wobble and a bow.
I don't really enjoy that kind of service. I know that in India servers/cooks/maids are not considered to be people, but for me there is only class and status distinction. I'm a human, he's a human. We're all the same and deserve the same treatment!
We didn't come back to this restaurant...
Next day we decided to see the big Shiva statue on the island and walk around it. Apparently the path is shaped like an "Om" symbol. First we thought that the island is shaped like Om, but nope. We walk up the stairs, it's before 9am, and I already have sweat dripping down my back. At the top Andy doesn't have a face on him, he got another heat attack. He went back to the hotel, while I wanted to see some of the island. I started walking, but after walking for a little bit, seeing more steps which I wasn't ready for, and bumping upon guys who couldn't take their eyes off of me (not in a good sense), I remembered my walk in Goa and decided that I walked enough and my daily exercise quota is reached!

Random stuff:
- 100 kgs of sugarcane cost $10, and that's with transportation!!!
- We start talking in weird English, using phrases like "You like?". I was thinking about it ... is this grammatically correct? I look at Andy, and he looks at me. Would you say that in London? "you like?" ??? I think we started abbreviating sentences so it would be easier for locals to understand :)
pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Omkareshwar#

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Aurangabad, Ellora & Ajanta


The train to Aurangabad arrived at 3am. Andy and I would take turns who would be awake for the next train ride, since you have to watch the stations and wake the other person up 10 minutes before the arrival to pack everything, wake people up who sleep on the floor to make it to the door and ensure quick exit when the train will arrive at the platform. Unfortunately a lot of times it involves stepping on people and waking up elders and babies. We went into the 1st class waiting room, and because we're white we were let in. We locked the luggage and fell asleep on the leather chairs, until 6am when we were kicked out and told that we can't sleep in there.
There were many roads leading from the train station, and of course we were sent along the wrong one. It took me an hour to walk around the area to find a suitable hotel while Andy waited with the luggage. After Hampi, Hyderabad and 3 sleepless nights, I couldn't stand another boiling night and we treated ourselves to an AC room. We asked how much would a tuk-tuk tour of the sights would be, were given ridiculous price, and happily went to sleep in our cool room. At 3:30 when we woke up and got out of the hotel the tuk-tuk driver was still sitting there in his tuk-tuk calling us in. Are we going for the tour?? No! We only asked for the price! This driver sat in his tuk-tuk from 7am till 3:30 waiting for us! In a city with world heritage site, there are no buses going there. We asked everybody, the only option was to take a taxi or a tour, so we signed up for the tour.
On the street, homeless kids started to follow us, and nothing helped, they would walk, say something, and tug at out shirts. I started thinking of Indian conversations, if they disagree with you, they wouldn't talk to you, they would start yelling. I'm not a yelling person, and "no, no, no, no" doesn't help. I decided to apply the strategy and yelled at them to go away. I felt bad, but they did go away, I haven't used that strategy since. Sometimes you have no choice but to adapt to a local way of life, at other times I'll let my heart decide. It didn't pass long until we were followed by other kids, we decided instead of yelling to find a shelter in a Sony store into which they wouldn't follow. Andy needed to buy a camera. We went into a few stores where he would be offered expensive cameras. When Andy would ask for the cheapest one, they would be very surprised. Why if he's from Australia where everybody's rich, does he want a cheap camera??
We went into a restaurant where we were treated like royalty again. Locals just love foreigners (in non touristic cities). They were at our table the minute I'd look at them, and would try to feed us more and more food (out of sense of hospitality). They were so insistent on deserts and coffee that Andy reluctantly agreed. I look at Andy. It's 8pm, do you really want a coffee? "No, I don't". Sir, we'd love to have a coffee, but some other time. Oh Andy ... it's ok, one day he'll learn :) We were given candies with the bill, I ate one, opened another one, and looked at Andy. "Do you want it?". He gave me a head wobble answer. To his shocked expression, I put the candy in my mouth ... I'm sorry, I just don't know what you meant :))
Early morning we wake up to go to the tour. I notice that every day I wake up with a headache, and I constantly feel sick until I drink at least a liter of water.
Before boarding the bus, we go get a breakfast. I don't think ordering a breakfast requires a lot of processing abilities especially when we order from their menu. Everything we ordered came out to be wrong:
2 eggs -> 1 egg
toast with butter -> warmed up bread
lemon tea -> black tea
a bit annoying... but at least it's food. A lot of the times we go to restaurants and what we get is a complete surprise ... is there a point of ordering at all? I don't drink coffee in the mornings, and Andy doesn't drink teas. He would order a coffee, they would come slowly to the table, hunching down, their face in fear they slowly slowly put tea on the table and run away. Means they don't have coffee, they feel ashamed, but they would give him at least something than nothing at all. Usually it's been followed by a heavy sigh and a mental repetition of "just keep breathing, keep breathing" ... that's in my case, in Andy's case, I'm quick to hold his hand and tell him that it's not a big deal, trying to prevent an explosion. It's ok if they serve tea instead of coffee, but I can't have coffee in the mornings, they go through the trouble of making extra coffee when I can't drink it anyway ... what's the use? Why can't they come to the table and say "excuse me sir/madam, we don't have coffee, would you like to have a tea instead?"
Arrived at the fort. I don't remember much of it except the story of how they broke the fort doors. In all the forts, the front doors are heavily spiked against elephant attacks. Well not in this case. Camels weren't worth much in this part of the country, so they would put a camel in front of the doors, give elephants alcohol, poke the elephant with a spear who would then charge, hit the camel thus opening the door... the camel died from hundreds of stabs that go into him :( Seems to me that the camel should've been given the alcohol instead. We then went to a maze through which the intruders had to wonder through in order to get inside. The maze is full of slides and holes which will lead into the river full of crocodiles and poisonous snakes. We didn't go through the wrong tunnels, but nevertheless a bunch of people were lead into pitch black tunnels (and who knew that kids are scared of the dark?) without lights, with flying bats, stairs and slippery surfaces??!!! Who's stupid idea was that? I kept pushing my camera's shutter button, since it will pre-flash before taking the picture, just to see the next few meters ahead of me.
Next was Ellora caves, it was first build by Buddhist for meditation purposes, then had Muslim additions and finally finished by Hindus. It has a largest monolith temple in the world, and that's all I know about it. These caves were abandoned after a fall of the empire, and completely forgotten. The jungle took over and they became invisible to the outside world. They were just discovered 200 years ago by the British guy who accidently stumbled upon them while hunting for a tiger, so they're in great shape, without bullet or cannon holes and without gods faces removed.
We then went to a mini Taj Mahal. It wasn't too impressive. It's a copy of the real Taj Mahal, but I'm wondering, if you want to build a mausoleum for your beloved mother, why wouldn't you come up with something original? Mostly it's built out of lime stone instead of marble, and hence is in a bad bad shape.
Next was Ajanta caves. They are similar to Ellora caves, except that they have more paintings in them rather than carvings. Ellora caves were abandoned in order to build Ajanta, but when they were discovered, they were both empty, and nobody knows much history about these places. Even though Ellora are considered to be more superior to Ajanta, and lonely planet says that if you have time for only one, Ellora wins hands down ... I liked Ajanta more. But it could've only been for the reason that we had more time to explore without being time pressured by the tour. There were some steps to reach the caves ... not a lot though, and if you didn't want to take the stairs, you can take the ramp, otherwise the path was pretty flat, so I was quite surprised to see an Indian couple sitting on a chair held in the air by 4 men and walked between the caves. I don't understand that, and I refuse to understand it. If you can walk, then walk, regardless of money or status, why make men kneel down to you? They already feel inferior. But there is a caste system that works, and everybody respects it. You can do anything to the lower class/status people, and it's even expected of them to behave in such a way. I understand that I'm being very critical here. For ex. if I go to a spa and get a pedicure, someone is kneeling in front of me and cleaning my feet, but I see it as a choice. They chose to work in this profession, and I pay them money, they don't have to do it if they don't want to ... I guess it's the same with these people porters ... I don't know ... I still don't like it.
Outside the caves we were bombarded with souvenir sellers who I shooed away with NHAI, JAAO! "No, go away!" remark. Seemed to work :)
Went to eat in the restaurant, it was good food, but not so good service. Cricket was playing on TV and every time we needed something, we had to go to the counter and pretty much talk to the back of their heads. When the bill came it was all wrong. I ordered 1 naan, but was charged for 2. Instead of 30 rps (as in the menu) it was 40 and the numbers didn't add up to the final amount. We went to the counter where everybody got a chance to stick their nose in it. I said that I ordered 1 naan, why are there 2 on the bill? He said that there are 2 of us (in India a couple is considered to be 1 entity as opposed to 2 separate people. It's not unusual to order 1 tea, and be served 2). I said that I only ordered 1. He said then why did I eat 2? I said that how do I know it's 2 when they're cut? He said, what if you order 1 and get 10, you'll eat all 10? I said, if I order tea and get served the whole menu, you'd expect me to pay for all of it? We went back and forth about the subject, they tried to recalculate everything again and again. At the end they gave up tore the bill and asked us how much we want to pay. We took the menu, calculated all the items that we ordered and paid that much. I wasn't even angry, I was just laughing at the whole situation.
On the way back to the hotel, the tuk-tuk that we took during the day stopped and gave us a free lift to the hotel. In the country where every cent counts, where you can rip off tourists as much as you want, we get a free lift... very heart warming. Just as I said before, one moment you're pushed into the gutter, the next you're being offered a helping hand.
In the morning we're on the road waiting for a bus. Buses are hungry for people, and would stop and drop you off anywhere you'd like, except it seems that morning. We waited for an hour in a shadow of a tree, with every bus speeding past us.  While every bus speed past, every truck slowed down and honked. Why are they honking? We’re pretty far away from the road? Apparently it was a hello greeting. In lots of trucks, 10s guys who sat in the cabin or on the roof, were waving at us and screaming hello in a bunch of languages. Yell hello a much as you like, but for goodness sake, stop with the honking!!
 One of the motorbikes stopped, they went in 1 direction when we were already waiting. When they went back, we were still standing. They told us that we should go to a nearby town where there is a bus station. What's going on?? Why just when we need to catch a bus in the middle of the road, specifically on that day and a very hot day they decide to pass? Fine, we started walking. Of course just as we walk along a dirty side of the road, sweating, with heavy packs, and every car that's passing us beeping at our ears we get stopped by a group guys asking for a picture. I don't pay attention and keep on walking, but Andy's calm mood doesn't seem to be very calm anymore. How can they think looking at us, tired, hot with heavy packs that to stop for a picture is a good idea!!!!!! What a bunch of knob-heads!! Andy, relax, I try to calm him down again. We both take turns calming each other down, since apparently we get frustrated in different situations, so it works very well :) I don't even know what would've happened if we were both very frustrated and exploding in the same time. I don't think that someone who caused it, or just happened to be in the way would’ve lived to see the next day.
Guess what, a bus stopped on the way while we were walking ... how strange!
The road wasn't that great or maybe it was the bus or the driver wasn't that great, but we hit many bumps, and with every bump, I was almost flying to the ceiling. I tried to sit differently, but the only thing that seemed to work is to hold on tight, and to squat above the seat not touching it, then the legs would act like springs, and I would just rise about the chair without my feet leaving the ground. Of course I can't "sit" like that all the time, and there were times when I missed the bump and was learning how to fly again. At one point a bunch of people left, and the driver was shouting at something while driving. There are no cars at the front, no one beside him, who's he shouting at, very bizarre. Appears that he was shouting at me to move to the front of the bus. Aahhhh ... life became so much simpler after that :)
As it turns out, there is no direct bus (again!), and we had no idea where to go. I go to the information counter, he tells me something, but I can't understand with too many people jamming and pushing and shouting at him when he tries to speak to me. I leave the luggage with Andy, get out of the line and go to the back of the office. I stand at the door, and say "I need help, I don't know where to go". They immediately assigned me one of the officers who explained me everything in a quite space with a patient manner, took me to the bus, told me where to get off, and where to catch the next bus. I sat down at the platform while Andy went to buy some snacks. The officer comes to find me, "Madam, this bus is leaving, you must hurry up!". Was so nice of him to inform me :) Andy came just in time for us to board.
On the next stop someone else volunteered to look after us. He found us the correct bus, sorted out the luggage, told us where to buy water, told us where to sit, showed me the toilet, and then asked politely "May I go now?" :) I wasn't holding him, or asking him any questions. He was just showing me everything around on his own ... that was cute :)
Toilet was disgusting though. They weren’t cleaned in a while I guess, and all the cabins were dirty, so dirty that in fact one woman was doing her business (number 2 business) right in the middle of the yard!!
Waited 2 hours for the bus to go. It was getting very annoying, the journey of ~200 kms, takes us 11 hours! At the front of the bus there was a goddess as usual, and they blessed her with flowers and incent. I was trying to hide my laughter when he knelt in front of her, and with closed eyes said a prayer and moved the incent in circles around his head and around the goddess :) Even though I'm so cynical, I thanked (my) god for that. The driver was absolutely crazy! They hung lemon and chili to take the evil spirits out, but I think they should've hung them on the driver! He ruthlessly moved through the packed bus terminal not stopping or slowing down for anybody, just his hand on the horn. He almost crashed a motorcycle and a person. It was his fault, but while driving forward at a high speed, he looked backwards out of the window and was yelling and cursing the motorcycle driver! It became very crowded and at one point there was a puppy whining, music blasting, honking of the bus, and of the other vehicles on the street, it was a complete chaos! Signs "blind corner, speed 20 km/hr" meant go at least 80, and turn off the lights and speed up through complete darkness, to see if there are lights coming your way and take the corner to test the speed when the bus would flip. He would overtake everybody while holding the horn for a minute, and while he was overtaking, the cars going in our direction would have to go on the side of the road. It was the scariest bus ride ever! I don't know if any of my hair turned white, but I won't be surprised if they did. People were jumping on and off the bus without it stopping, and I was scared that we have to pick our luggage from the back ... would he just take off? I made sure that he would wait, until we picked it up! Andy has a bad knee, and the front compartment of the bus was overfilled with people, he needed to straighten his leg out. Just as he did that, someone slapped his leg and told him to move it! I think Andy by this point run dry of his swearing vocabulary! He then was told by someone that his shoe was too close to the goddess, and if he'll take it off, he could straighten his leg! *#&$(@*$^^#*@!!!!!!
I think that finally after 4 months in India I went through the 3 stages of denial, anger and acceptance. Now that I'm up north, and been to many touristic places, I miss the real India, and real Indians with whom you almost have to mime to understand each other, speak sloooooowly, get frustrated at our misunderstandings and differences, find comfort in their acceptance of all and easy going-ness. They can yell at you, but the next minute will offer you their food or shove you out of their way and then ask with their genuine interest the same 2 questions that seem to be on the mind of every local that we've met, the questions that we've been asked 100s of times "What's your name? Your country?" be very pleased at the response and continue staring and smiling at you, paying attention to every movement that we make as though we come from a different planet. India is hard to love, but once you start to understand it, you love it with all your heart even though at times it's too much to handle, and you feel all the cells of your body screaming, but if you continue to travel, you have no other choice but to forgive and trust that it's not personal ... it's just the way of life.

Song that I like that is very popular in here: one of the guys (who's the cuter one :) ), it's the actor from the movie which I've been an extra in, in Mumbai.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7G-tYRzwYY

pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/AurangabadElloraAjanta