Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

Glentanner, New Zealand

Mike and I are staying in a small camper's paradise 20 km away from Mt. Cook, the tallest point in all of New Zealand. After we arrived in Christchurch a few days ago, we rented a small SUV, which we swiftly dubbed Baron Von Bleef, and started driving. The current plan is to drive our way around the two big islands that make up New Zealand, ending up in Auckland (North Island) around the 17th of November, which is when our flight for Peru via LA departs. So far, in addition to Christchurch, we've passed through the main burg of Timaru and many small towns besides on our way to the foot of Mt. Cook.
We spent all of today tramping through the foothills of the mountain, crossing swinging suspension bridges and skipping rocks across glacier-fed lakes. I got to give my Himalayan walking stick some much-needed excersize and had a chance to stretch out my own legs. Now, we rest. Tomorrow, we're heading further south in New Zealand, towards Queenstown, supposedly the adrenaline capitol of the world. Tentative plans have us jumping out of planes attached to bungee cords while juggling flaming sticks and doing backflips. We will also be running with scissors. It should be awesome.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Photo Album: India Overland

In the course of winding our way through India, the camera that I didn't even know I was carrying randomly took hundreds of pictures. Here are some of them, in a very particular order.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

GNU Zealand

New Excelsior Hostel - Christchurch, New Zealand

It was been a long day. We got up at 04:00 in Cairns, Australia. Almost twenty four hours later we are just making up our beds in Christchurch, New Zealand. In between the two, we spent a few hours taking in the sites of Sydney. There was free wireless internet at the end of this road, and that makes the journey so much easier to bear.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

America Is The Cheapest

Our flight from New Zealand to Peru will be taking us through the City of Angels, where we will be "laying over" for a little more than twenty-four hours. These will no doubt be filled with the required amounts of mexican food and Yuu-Yuu's. And there may also be some drinking. If you plan on being in LA on the eve of Nov. 17th, please give us a "holla". It would be nice to see some old friends.

Video Gallery: SCUBA Snacks

We've just returned from another mostly* successul SCUBA adventure. Here's a little surfacing video.

*Unfortunately, I was layed low with some horrific sea-fever halfway through the trip, so I had to skip out on a bunch of the dives. Luckily, I was able to entertain myself with hallucinations and diorrhea. Ye-frickin-haw.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Video Gallery: Thai Catfight

We had the pleasure of witnessing two Thai ladies go at it in the ring. I actually watched the taller of the two training a few days before. If she knocked over my drink in a bar, I would buy her another one.
Another culturally sensitive OC production: (small) (large)

Just as a reminder, if you are having trouble viewing any of the OC videos, there are two video players that are known to work. VLC and Quicktime. Windows Media Player can suck it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bollocks To Bollywood

Bombay, India

Jason was approached on Wednesday about being an extra in a Bollywood movie. The "casting agent" was offering 500 rupees and a free lunch in exchange for our services from 08:00 to 21:00. I was skeptical, but some sleuthing on the interweb convinced me that the offer was legit and I agreed to come along. We got up early (06:30) to shower and pretty ourselves up. A bus full of Western faces started the long-ish (maybe 40 minutes) ride to the studio at 08:00. Our fellow cast members were a UN of white people. There were delegates at the Cracker Congress from Holland, New Zealand, Australia, England, South Africa, Finland, Italy, Germany. I think we were the only kids keeping it real for the Ewe Ess of Eh, but I did not get to chat with everyone.

The studio was by far the nicest, most modern, and best-maintained complex of buildings I have seen in India. The bus took us through some very nasty slums into a little oasis of latte-chugging money-men that never wear ties, suspiciously-dressed homosexual dancers with Rick James hair, and frumpy clipboard-bearing production assistants. Yellow paint and palm trees completes the picture - a little bit of Los Angeles protected by a high wall from a whole lot of Bombay.

No time was wasted getting into costume. Jason was chosen to be a bartender and draped in a horrendous Hawaiian-style shirt. I was allowed to remain in my street clothes - white shirt and dark trousers - to fill in as a customer. The set was a sound stage into which had been built the "Vancouver Yacht Club". The instructions to the set designer must have been something like "an old-boy's club with a strong nautical theme". There was a pub-like bar at one end, a fake blue sky behind even faker masts at the other, and some side rooms decked out with leather chairs and brass navigational instruments. The ceiling was modeled on the ribs of a wooden ship, giving the impression that things had gone a bit Poseidon Adventure - the prefect setting for the farcical musico-aquatic production about to unfold.

The night before the shoot we went to a local theatre to do some research. I was not riveted by the film "No Entry" despite it being in its 50th glorious day. Rather, you could say that I was somewhat appalled. Merits aside, the research did set reasonable expectations for Bollywood content, so it was not a surprise that we were shooting a super-lame song-and-dance number. Choreography in these parts has not evolved much beyond the Cop Rock era. The premise for the scene was that the heroine (stage name: Taneesha - a rising subcontinental star), having downed one too many Moosehead, had decided to have a bit of a drunk sorority girl dance on and off of the bar. Jason was right there behind the action passing out second-rate vodka tonics. It seems likely that some part of his head will be in a few frames of the final product. I was only chosen for group shots and kept well clear of the direct gaze of the camera, so it is somewhat less assured that my smirking mug will be gracing the silver screen.

The set was a very male environment. Between shots, an army of carpenters, electricians, lighting specialists, and camera coolies shouted orders up from the floor, down from the rafters, left, right, and sometimes in kind of a diagonal direction. Authority seemed to be in order of fatness. The biggest fat guy would shout at three fat-but-less-fat-guys who shouted at yet-skinnier gentlemen who then passed the message along to the emaciated bottom caste that actual get things done. In a surprising twist, the ring master of the Cirque de Belly turned out to be a visually unimpressive woman who's authority was matched only by her grumpiness. She sat well away from the main action and watched things through a monitor, issuing commands to the crew through a booming sound system. The disembodied voice of the apparently absent director blaring out of the speakers gave her a god-like quality and left no question as to who was in charge.

We shot from 10:00 to 21:00 and maybe completed 20 seconds of the film. I figured that most of the waiting would happen when the crew was setting up a shot. Not so. The camera was moved, lights lit, and extras arranged with a determined quickness. The majority of the time was spent rehearsing, re-hearsing, shooting, and re-shooting very small segments of action. Taneesha (sp?) struggled to please all of her customers. The choreographer never missed a chance to re-demonstrate a move or offer bits of useful advice like "use the energy". The camera operator wanted to check and recheck his field and focus with the apparent belief that cinematic quality is measured entirely in F-stops. The god-director was worst. Her oft-issued instructions were inconsistent and contradictory. At one point, she literally asked for a move to be "graceful", "drunk", and "ladylike" all at once. Such are the awkward demands of stardom.

It was good fun watching the crew at work and we were treated better than I expected. Tea and water were readily available on set and lunch was tasty and plentiful. Nonetheless, even curiosity satisfied and quality eats cannot forestall the boredom bred of perpetual waiting. I was relieved and quite a bit tired when we called it a day. We met up with some of the other extras after the sleepy bus ride home for food and drinks, but decided to turn into instead of head out clubbing with the Caucasian Coalition. I look forward to seeing one of the OC crew in the final film. Being a Bollywood extra was worthwhile, but I will not do it again. My thresholds for boredom and artistic license were both reached.


Dehli, India

We have collected quite a few travel guide books in the last couple of months. Without fail, the introductory chapters of these books are full of dire warnings of disease, crime, and dirty tricks played out at the cost of the unwary traveller. In general, these warnings have varied between highly exaggerated and downright alarmist. Not so with India. Both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet go on and on about the scams regularly perpetrated on tourists. We have been on the receiving end of almost every one of them. I have itemized them for your reading pleasure:

* Which Hotel? Your hotel.

We hit the first sign of trouble not 1 hour after landing. It is very uncommon to find a Delhi taxi with a working meter. It is even more uncommon to find one with a working meter that the driver is willing to use. Fares are agreed upon before departure. Severely inflated fares for foreigners are so common that the government has had to step in. They operate a pre-pay system from common tourist areas. You buy a voucher from a window, give the voucher to the taxi driver when you arrive, then he gives it back to the tourism bureau to get paid. The necessity for such a system is enough to put anyone on guard, but it did not quite prepare me for the elaborate scamola about to unfold.

We got our voucher and hopped into a charming 50's-style Delhi cab that had actually been built 2 years ago. Everything was fine until we got into the city and the driver declared that he could not find our hotel, despite the fact that I had identified its exact location on a detailed map. We would have to stop at his office for directions. The office turned out to be a tourism company.

In the office, another gentleman explained that there is metro construction near our hotel and that we must phone so they can meet us at the nearest accessible point. I watched him dial the hotel number and he handed me the phone. The voice on the other end told me without reservation that the hotel was full. I asked him the name of the hotel. His answer was "this hotel". I gave him one more chance and he meekly changed his response to "your hotel". I slammed down the receiver in a combination of surprise and disgust.

Two things impressed me about this situation:

1. Someone went so far as to rig up a special "tourist duping" phone that connects to a coconspirator no matter what number is dialed. That is a high level of effort and creativity.

2. They were not at all embarrassed or apologetic about being caught red-handed. In fact, they never acknowledged their lies even when directly confronted with them.

His supply of scam tactics exhausted, the taxi driver took us to the hotel which was free of metro construction and was holding our room as previously arranged. We had been in Delhi for less than 3 hours.

* Proud of My Country

On our first morning, we set out to run a few errands. It was not long before we were approached by very well-spoken gentleman with good English and an easy-going demeanor. He offered to help us locate our needs because he was proud of his country and wanted us to see its best side and enjoy our time there. Our volunteer guide took us to get SIM cards for our mobile phones and mini DV tapes for the camcorder before things started going funny.

First, he steered us towards "his" wholesale silver shop to have a look at the goods. The staff there were busy unloading boxes, so there was little pressure to buy. We looked at a few things, but bought nothing, and were on our way. Next up, we where ushered to a tailor selling everything from complete Western suits to traditional local clothing. I picked up a pashmina and a silk tie at what was later found to be a very inflated price. Jason stayed strong and resisted the intense sales pressure from the store personnel. After that, we had a cup of tea in a local travel office where another gentleman laid out a deluxe tourist itinerary while studiously avoiding any discussion of price.

We escaped from the travel agent with wallets unopened and said goodbye to our guide. Before parting, he asked us to "give him something". That something turned out to be some cash. Some rupees in hand, he left us with one bit of advice: "if anyone approaches you on the street, look them directly in the eyes and clearly say no". Good advice, indeed.

* The Shitbomb

Delhi has famously polite and effective shoe-shiners. Lonely Planet claims that innovative scammers in Delhi will discretely toss feces onto the shoes of foreign visitors then (posing as a shoe-shiner) offer to clean it off at an inflated price. At the time of reading, this seemed to strange and disgusting to be possible. But sure enough, in the afternoon of my first day in Delhi, somebody chucked a big old hunk of poop (hopefully not human) down on my right shoe. Jason noticed the shit-bombing in action, but only because he thought the bomber might be going for my wallet. I vaguely recall a request to clean my shoes, but unsolicited requests on the streets of Delhi are so frequent that I had already (with less than 24 hours in town) started to filter them out. This incident is top of my "Why I Hate Delhi" list.

* Closing Time

These are variations on the same scam:

1. On the morning of day 2, we jumped in a tuk-tuk to the Khan Market to buy some books. On the way, the driver informed us that the market does not open untl 11:30. It was about 10:00. He suggested that we spend the intervening time shopping in a local store he knows. We insisted on going anyway. Shortly before arrival, the driver pointed at a burnt-down building as evidence that the market was not yet open. He even went so far as to indicate a shop that was clearly open and say "See? Closed." We arrived and found the market to be in full swing.

2. After the Khan Market, we decided to walk up to the National Museum. A fellow pedestrian struck up a conversation along the way. He said he was on his way to work at the Bank of India and inquired about our destination. Alas! He informed us that the museum was closed until 1:30 (it was about 11:30) because the Prime Minister was having a meeting there. In the meantime, he knew a great shop where we could get quality Indian goods at low-low prices. We said goodbye to our new friend and carried on to the museum. The museum collection was very impressive, though it did not contain any prime ministers.

3. We spent most of a day (a Saturday) in Delhi on the way to Agra from the Himalayas. As soon as we arrived in Connaught Circle - the commercial center of New Delhi - a local informed us that "everything" there was closed and that we could so some shopping at a great place he knew nearby. We dismissed him pretty quickly as he was making this wild claim directly in front of a row of very open businesses.

These guys get a piece of the action for ever dupe they bring in through the door of the overpriced shops they tout for. They will say almost anything to get you there it seems. I do not care for them.


Known side effects of exposure to Dehli include frustration and paranoia. Even now that we are free of the capital, anything I hear from local sources is tainted info and I have only the worst expectations of people that approach without invitation. I am hoping to combat this epidemic of mistrust by mega-dosing on antipodean friendliness in Oz and NZ. I would hate to live for much longer with a chronic infection of suspicion.

Tibet Your Bottom Dollar

MacLeod Ganj, India

We have been in a number of places that can best be described as "traveller ghettos". Good examples are Yangshuo in China and Ko Tao in Thailand. In these honkey hoods you can be sure to find French fries, cheap hotels, internet access, and signs advertising classes in the local form of massage. Traveller ghettos are little nuggets of the West built up around some local attractions. In the case of India's MacLeod Ganj, the attractions are: 1) easy access to mountain trekking and 2) the presence of the Tibetan government in exhile.

MG has been the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his ministers since they fled Chinese occupation after WWII Tibetan refugees that make it into India are brought here and given an audience with the DL. Many settle in the area. The presence of a refugee government, population, and a widely-recognized Buddhist spiritual leader has had predictable effects. The place is over-run with shops that sell Tibetan crafts, serve Tibetan food, and teach Tibetan massage. There is a similar infestation of Western hippies that consume the crafts, food, and massage by the steamy, self-satisfying bowlful. I wonder if Tibetans feel the same way about white Buddhists the same way the Irish feel about "Irish-Americans".

The Tibetan government's compound is comprised of some unremarkable concrete buildings, an underwhelming temple complex, and a small but very well-assembled museum detailing the history of the Tibetan occupation. Although I have only heard the Tibetan side of the story, some facts of the matter seem to be clear. After the communist pushed the nationalists offshore, Chinese troops forcibly occupied Tibet. The justification for occupation is historical. Tibet and Han China were once both part of the Mongol Empire (Yuan dynasty in China). The occupation was not (and is not) silently accepted by the Tibetans. There have been (and are) street demonstrators, guerilla fighters, brutal prisons, deprivation of rights to free speech and movement, and intentional efforts to "sinify" the area. I would like to give the Chinese a chance to tell their side of the story, but in the meantime I have heard enough to develop a strong preference for non-Chinese goods.

Politics and spirituality were not our purpose in MacLeod Ganj. We had come north for the other main attraction - trekking. Fortunately, It was not too hard to escape the odor of incense and hacky sack and get out into the mountains.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Video Gallery: Taj Mahal Tour

Take a tour of the lesser-known side of the Taj, courtesy of your favorite wit.

Video Gallery: Driving through Agra

A sneak peak of the the suburbs of Agra, India. Stunning.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

We're Off To See The Wizard

Somewhere over the Indian Ocean, Earth

According to the cute little LCD map in front of my seat here, we're currently flying a few hundred kilometers south of Malayasia, at 35,000 feet and 584 km/h, slowly turning eastward towards the northern coast of Australia. The OC's hemisphere-switching flight to Sydney is halfway over, and our triumphant return to the Western world is nigh. And it feels real good.

It was only in our last day or so in Mumbai that I really got excited about returning to the West. After being in SE asia so long, I had gotten used to certain travel compromises. Compromises that had kind of faded into the background noise until I started thinking about returning to the West again. Just small things, mostly. I got used to always feeling a little bit sweaty and grimy. I got used to the squat toilets. I became accustomed to never really having clean hands, not being able to drink the tap water, and having to be careful about the food I ate. And, most unfortunately, I got into the habit of not really trusting people.
That's probably the worst thing.
I've found that I'm pretty paranoid now. I get very nervous if somebody walks too close behind me. I obsessively glance to the side, trying to catch him in the corner of my eye in case he might be trying to grab something from my backpack. In large crowds, I always keep my hands near my pockets to make sure nobody nicks anything. And I've found myself doubting people constantly. I tend to go through a mental checklist of ways a person might be screwing me to make a profit before I'll believe them. It sucks. I hate assuming the worst in people.
I don't want to make it seem like the past few months have been horrible. SE asia has been a wonder. It was amazing to experience a region so different from my own. Just learning first-hand about cultures as ancient and varied as any in Europe was enough to keep me happy. But, there are parts of the culture that I didn't like, and, eventually, those parts became a bit overwhelming.

It will be good to be back to something a little more familiar, even if it is only for a month or so. Just a quick reboot to make sure everything is running OK.
Plus, I really want a hamburger.

Elayne and Racquel

While in China, we spent some time with two lovely ladies we met in Tienenman Square. After a few too many beers in Xi'an, they got rowdy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Photo Album: Himalayan Trek

As much as I like traffic lights, I like the Himalayas even more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Checking In

We've gotten a few emails from folks asking us if we're OK, since we were last known to be somewhat close to a huge disaster site and all. Luckily, we left the area of northern India a day before they got hit, so we are fine.

Unfortunately, there are over 30,000 people who weren't so lucky.

More Than One India

Kalyan Junction, India

I just awoke from a semi-restful slumber on our overnight train from Delhi to Mumbai (Bombay), and I figured it was time to bloginate. It's been over a week since I've put in a significant entry, so I think I'm do. I purchased a warm tea from one of the unavoidably numerous and vociferous chai-wallahs aboard the train for four rupees (10 cents) and rinsed my face off with some lukewarm train water. I'm ready.

India can be a difficult country. Our first port of call here was Delhi, which didn't exactly give a good first impression. It had all of the trappings of a third-world metropolis. There were ridiculously overcrowded streets with standing pools of excrement and ragged, crying, homeless children. Mangy stray animals roamed unchecked around the city, feeding off of piles of trash by the roadside. And some desperate citizens clung to foreigners like flies, willing to do anything (lie, cheat, steal...) to get a few rupees. All in all, not a very pleasant experience.
On the other hand, our next stop was Shimla, a quaint little town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas of northern India. It felt like we had been transplanted to some Austrian village in the Andes. It was quiet, and relatively clean. Uniformed schoolchildren walked arm-in-arm along the streets, and roller-skated around the main square. A local volleyball contest drew a large crowd of well-behaved spectators. Even the bazaar was clean and sedate. A much different India greeted us there.

India in particular, and SE asia in general has made me rethink my stance on poverty and begging. Before, I just didn't want to deal with it. I figured that it wasn't really my responsibility to take care of these people. But, now, seeing how such a small amount of money, which basically means nothing to me, can mean everything to someone else... it makes you reconsider things.

Friday, October 07, 2005


MacLeod Ganj, India

Jason has been hiking maybe three times. Compared to me, that makes him a very experienced outdoorsman. Using the power of nondeterministic logic, Jason convinced me that I should cut my trekking teeth by taking a long journey through the tallest mountains in the world. I was either overpowered by audacity or just not paying attention when I agreed.

Our trusty Rough Guide led us up a steep road early in the morning to the local mountaineering institute. We were just about to conclude that it was closed on Sundays when we tripped across a very polite and well-spoken gentleman named Harish. It turns out that Harish's dad literally wrote the book on trekking in this region. He outlined several options and we decided to take an easy 4 day trek up to a mountain pass. For the low-low price of $40 US per person per day, Harish agreed to provide an experienced guide, food, equipment, and a porter to carry said food and equipment. That night we charged out batteries on high-energy Tibetan grub and hit the sack early. It was Ghandi's birthday, so we could not have stayed up drinking beer even if we tried.

Harish's brother met us at the family's lodge early the next day and introduced our guide - SK - and the porter - Mitrurham (Mitru). SK was a very-fit looking man of 24 from a local herding village. His English vocabulary was almost entirely comprised of camping/hiking-related words. Mitru was quite a bit older, wore a very apropos woolen jacket and woven trousers, and spoke almost no English. Communication with our companions was low in volume but occasionally very high in content. For example, we could not really chat much about politics, but it was always clear when I was about to walk over a cliff. We dropped off most of our stuff and headed to the institute to meet Harish. There was a brief dispute about who-didn't-tell-who (I didn't tell SK) that I needed a pack before we started out.

It was awkward hiking with a guide and a porter. For example, I was carrying a sleeping bag, a foam mattress, a Tibetan yak-wool sweater of questionable taste, and my cleanest pair of underpants. Mitru - a man maybe twice my age - was carrying 4 days of food, a camping stove, a big jug of kerosene, pots and pans, a china tea-setting for 6, and who knows what else. Jason and I never had to cook a meal or wash a plate. SK insisted that we eat first and aggressively pushed the bulk of the food onto our plates. We had plates and spoons. They had bread and hands. I could never really shake the feeling that I was an imperial-era Englishman on a bit of a jaunt into the hills. Having servants does not come comfortably to me. Fortunately, luxury does, so I put up only the meekest complaints.

The first day's hike was along a well-worn and largely empty trail. Cars, buildings, and forest steadily gave way to sheep, steep green hills, and chunky white rocks. We stopped at two surprisingly-located little shops along the way for chai, water, and a chocolate snack or two. SK cut us some thin walking sticks and promised Jason a better one farther along. The whole climb took maybe 3 hours. We arrived at Triund village in time for lunch. Village may be a bit strong. Triund is 3 mountain convenience stores made of rock and tarp and two or three wooden buildings that together form a guest house. It is a quiet, rugged, and scenic spot with views down to the towns in the valley and up to the snowy peaks, but by no means wilderness. We pitched our tent near the guest house and busied ourselves for the rest of the day eating, taking photos, walking around, and making a bow (as in "bow and arrow") string. More about the bow project later.

It was a cold night that ended well with a hot cup of chai and a hearty sub-continental breakfast of eggs, bread, butter, and jam. These eats were no fluke. We ate very well for the entire trip. SK also set us up with several Indian-style hot vegetable dishes, noodles, an infinite supply of rice, fresh chapatis, porridge, soup, coffee, something akin to Horlicks, and 3 or 4 daily cups of chai. There could be no complaining about food. Except perhaps its enforced abundance. No matter how full we claimed to be, a little bit more always seemed to work its way onto our plates.

Day two was a 4-hour march out above the trees, across some hard-packed residual snow, and up an increasingly steep and rocky hillside to "the cave". When Harish first told us that we would be sleeping in a cave, I immediately pictured bears and bats and secret Cobra bases and picking my teeth with a bone. This particular cave did not bear out any of those expectations. The roof (at most a mighty 4 feet from the floor) was a giant piece of rock jutting out from the hillside horizontally. The dry-stone walls provided something of a barrier against light and something less of a barrier against wind. The cave's saving grace was a large stone porch with a commanding view down the valley, across to a loudly streaming stream, and up to the rocky peak. We spent some time between lunch and dinner sticking our head in the freezing stream, but that feeling could not hold a candle to the view from our igneous solarium.

After dinner, we spent a bit of time looking at the stars, smoking cigarettes, drinking brandy, and freezing our butts off with a Danish grotto co-resident. It was a cold night in the cave that ended with an early start. We ate, dropped most of our gear, and were out and on the way up by seven. This last bit was steep and we wanted to hit it before the sun was down on our heads. I was particularly grateful to be marching in the relative cold. SK goes up and down this path four times a month. Jason is in good shape due to a steady diet of flippy-dance. Mitru is apparently part goat - he chain-smokes his way up mountains without complaint or any sign of stress. That leaves me as the wheezing, rest-needing runt of the litter. It is hard being the rate-limiter, but somebody has to do it.

Three hours of hard (for me) climbing put us at the top of the pass. The view was well worth the effort. On one side there was the familiar but even more magnificent view of the valley from whence we came. On the other side there was a steep and snowy drop before a line of six ridges leading up to snow-capped peaks. It was exactly what the Himalayas look like on TV but they are right there in front of us. Smack in the middle of the pass is a small shrine complete with statue of Ganeesha, Buddhist prayer flags, and assorted offerings. Our arrival just preceded that of some local shepherds driving their herd of goat-sheep (not sure which) over the top. We ate apples and trail mix and took photos amid the sounds of the herd moving, urged on by whistles and clicks. Those were the best apples I have ever had. As we started back down, SK made good on his promise and convinced one of the shepherds to give Jason a spare walking stick. Ever fair, Jason insisted on handing over his new Tibetan hat by way of trade.

We made it back down to the cave in time for lunch, broke camp, and set out for Triund. Down is a lot more precarious than up when it comes to steep rocky trails. We had a couple of minor scares during the descent including one notable incident where I put one foot down completely off the trail onto nothing at all. Jason also had a few slips and even SK lost his footing on occasion. In addition to increased peril, the down-hike fatigues the mind and body differently than than up. One must concentrate carefully on footing. It is easy to get bored of the game of "choose the rock" and let your mind wander. Also, cardiovascular stress is eschewed in favor of the more insidious muscular variety. Legs slowly get tired, legs go wobbly, and you start taking more risks than safe steps to conserve energy.

We made it back to Triund towards the afternoon of day three and set about completing the bow project. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Jason decided that we should try to construct a bow and arrow from the available materials. The first challenge was to make a string. This was accomplished by weaving together bits off long grass, tying those bits together into longer super-bits, then weaving 3 super-bits into one uber-bit. This process produced a surprisingly strong section of green rope. For act two, we had to make the bow itself and string it. My walking stick bravely volunteered and was cut, notched, and strung before you can say "eccentric waste of time". Bow assembled, we needed an arrow. Jason whittled down his original walking stick, tied on some feathers to the back, and secured a stone point to the front. Our best test shot traveled some 20 feet in a nice arc and landed point down (for once), breaking the arrow in the process. Success. I guess.

We slept in to a lazy 07:00 on day four, had a last mountain breakfast, broke camp, and set out down the easy path back to town. We met Harish at the institute and he accompanied us the last few meters to his lodge, debriefing along the way. We took a final photo of the Fellowship of the Bow and called an official end to the journey. Harish set us up with a room in the lodge. Hot showers and real beds were a relief for sore legs and dirty bodies. We spent some time burning the photos to a CD for SK/Harish before taking them out for dinner where Harish told us all kinds of scary stories about mountaineering accidents. Suffice to say that I am glad not to be the wife of the Canadian ambassador to India. I can now add "fear of horrible death" to "very sore legs" on the list entitled "Reasons To Wait a Bit Before Trekking Again".

In a surprising footnote to our trek, it turns out that SK is Mitru's son. You would think it would be obvious that we were traveling with a father and son but neither Jason or I had any clue. It does explain the occasional squabble about what path to take and continuous debates about who carried what and how.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Delhi Sandwiches

The Park Hotel - New Delhi, India
White Hotel - Simla, India
Green Cyber Cafe - MacCleod Ganj, India

The capital of India is more different-different than same-same compared to my expectations. I thought it would have a big center full of tall, grey buildings surrounded by a large expanse of medium-density commercial and residential districts. Things are a lot more varied than that. The central bit of the city (New Delhi) is full of large buildings set back from busy but wide tree-lined avenues. The trees are by no means restricted to the streets, though. From above and below, Delhi is surprisingly green. There are a number of large parks and the government area is built around a long patch of green (much like The Mall in DC or the Pal Mall in London) flanked on all sides by palatial buildings, long ponds, and monumental archways.

Old Delhi (a compact area to the north of the new city) is a different world. Narrow, crowded, and very busy streets are lined with crumbling two and 3 story buildings. The shops spill out onto the road and the combined motorbike, tuk tuk, bicycle rickshaw, and automobile traffic almost literally rubs elbows with street vendors. Somehow pedestrians manage to squeeze into the remaining space. The result is the cacophonous street life that a diet of Western movies and TV led me to expect. The only difference between Old Delhi and more outlying areas is that the old city is occasionally broken up by a massive fort, mosque, or temple, whereas the rest of town works around a larger than you might think number of owner-less cows.

The historical parts of Delhi do not disappoint. The major attractions in the Old Town are a giant fort and the biggest mosque in India. Both impress. South of town there are the remnants of a 14th century fort that is now inhabited only by monkeys. You are free to roam around the rocks and take in the comparative serenity of the ruin. It is a refreshing change from more developed tourist sites. Informative placards are far between and you are left to enjoy the site only for what it is now - unless of course you involuntarily pick up a tour guide and can not find a way to shake him without being very rude and then have to shell out some rupees for his "expertise". Like me.

Delhi can be overpowering. It is stressful to navigate unfamiliar streets while trying to avoid being run down, fending off relentless towts, and saying no time and again to enthusiastic 3-year-old beggars. Despite all that, I have never felt at all scared for my safety, something that I can not say for big American cities. I attribute this feeling of security to two things: 1) the prevalence of English - many people speak at least some of the Queen's lingo and almost all signs are easily read by a Anglo-literate honkey such as myself; 2) travel experience - Jason guesses that Delhi would be a lot more difficult if we had come here first. I agree. Places like Russia, China, and Vietnam were good training for a place like Delhi.

He is the Highlander

MacLeod Ganj, India

After the hectic 24-hour scam that was Delhi, it is nice to be in the relaxed northern mountains of India. We're staying in the adopted home of the Dalai Lama, a quiet little honky oasis in the Himalayas. It's a bit distressing that the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism is such a tourist-fest, but it's still a damn sight more relaxing than Delhi.
Tomorrow, we will be starting on a four-day hiking tour of the Kangra Valley, culminating in a supposedly spectacular view from Indrahara Pass, 4350 meters above sea level. There's going to be a glacier and everything.

Photo Album: Muay Thai

Kickin' ass, Thai-stylee.