David's World Tour

Central INDIA

November 2003 - Varanasi

Welcome to a different world. Varanasi is unique, amazing, inspiring, and worthy of several National Geographic specials. This is the Hindu holy city on the Ganges river, a place for ceremonies in sacred waters. This is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to die. The water is extremely polluted but everywhere there are people bathing to purify their souls, if not their bodies. As one enters the city from the funerary ghats, one enters a maze of twisty passageways, with temples, shops, and corpses on their way to the river for burning (carried by chanting holy men wearing colorful clothes). Plus there are "pseudo sadhus" (also known as "bogus babas") trying to swindle rupees from hapless tourists (these con men can be spotted easily as they approach foreigners offering worthless gifts; real sadhus don't do this), but even the bogus babas add color to the scene. There are also monkeys and elephants around. It's hard to imagine a place further away from Colorado. I recommend that you visit this fascinating place sometime, but watch out for the cow dung as you walk around!

November 2003 - Bodhgaya

At my Varanasi guest house, I coincidently met up with two friends from my yoga classes in Manali. The more one travels in a given region, the more frequently these "small world" coincidences occur. One friend, Natalia, is the only Brazilian I've met on my trip so far, who now I've met twice. My other friend, Irene, from Holland, drove her own purple Royal Enfield here from Nepal. She and I were both on our way to Bodhgaya so we rode there together. And what a ride it was!

The state of Bihar is an important side of India that most tourists don't see. Here is where many millions of incredibly poor people live. Sasaram is the most polluted, noisiest, and generally ugliest city that I have ever seen. It is also dusty, smelly, chaotic, and notorious for street crime, but fortunately Irene and I had nothing but pleasant encounters with locals.

Bodhgaya is the place where Buddhism began, with a monument to mark the exact spot where Siddhartha Gautama allegedly became enlightened, meditating under a bodhi tree. Unlike every other ancient temple I have visited (so far), where the monument is a dead relic and the tourists somehow take away from the place, here the tourists are monks who bring only positive energy. The more I learn about Buddhism, the more I like it!

November 2003 - Agra

One long train ride later: Agra. This was a VERY long train ride because I got sick just as I got on board. I'll spare you the messier details. Let's just say that I was delighted to get off that &@^*(% train in Agra! I woke up early to be the first tourist to enter the Taj Mahal, and that was awesome. The Taj Mahal really is a most beautiful building. I expected to be disappointed, and I wasn't.

November 2003 - Jaiselmer, Rajasthan

On my way from Agra to Jaiselmer, it might theoretically have been possible to get a non-stop, air-conditioned sleeper train, but I didn't get one. Instead, in second class, packed full of loud, smoking, snoring Indians, somehow I managed to sleep through my scheduled pre-dawn stop in the city of Jaipur. When I realized my mistake I had to re-plan quickly because I was supposed to meet friends the next day. First I figured out to where my train was going (Bikaner), then I dug out my guide book and researched Bikaner. Was there anything worth seeing there? (Yes). Rats! Thousands of the furry critters, at the Karni Mata rat temple in nearby Deshnok. The temple is so bizarre, one could think it's a tourist side show, but it is an amazingly real place of worship in a remote desert village. It is certainly worth a look if you happen to be in Deshnok! The city of Bikaner was also fascinating, with few tourists, colorful Rajasthanis, and lots of camels. Rajasthan has a different style from the rest of India. I like it! Now I'm in Jaiselmer, a highlight, with an amazing fort and fun people.

November 2003 - Great Thar Desert

I went camping with an ever-expanding group of friends in the Great Thar Desert. We had an easy itinerary and great food. We slept on sand dunes with locals singing around the campfire. I think camels are wonderful beasts, enduring endless suffering (eating thorny plants and carrying tourists) but remaining calm, gentle and never complaining too much. Ahhh... camping!

December 2003 - Pushkar

Travelling to Pushkar from Jaisalmer, "the golden city," I came through Jodhpur, "the blue city," with its well-preserved, impenetrable fort (often attacked but never conquered) - now a museum. Pushkar is famous for the world's largest camel fair. Pushkar also has a famous Brahma Temple. For me, it's a quiet place to hang out with friends. Pushkar is meat-free (not even eggs are allowed), but I usually order the all-you-can-eat vegetarian thali plate anyway (so cheap that meals at tourist restaurants seem outrageously expensive for $2 US dollars). Pushkar has the usual touristy clothes shops, constant come-ons from hustlers, and beggars, but at least there's not another fort :^) No, seriously, Rajasthan's forts are awesome!

December 2003 - Bombay (Mumbai)

Arriving into Mumbai's old British center, one is struck by the European architecture and civil engineering. Mumbai is clean compared to Delhi thanks in part to a distinct lack of cows. There are more Christian churches here, and not so many Hindu temples, but this is to be expected given the history (one small example of India's diversity). Prices are quite expensive here compared to Delhi, but Mummbai is the cultural capital of India and a nicer city, home of Bollywood and financial markets, so it's worth more to visit here. Since I have explored little however, I must count myself as a poor authority. For me Mumbai meant a short break into the world of the middle class.

January 2004 - Goa

Arriving into Goa by train, my friends and I found ourselves at Calangute beach, an expensive "package tourist" beach, so we left for Vagator, a nearby beach with mostly Indian tourists. From there we rented motorcycles to drive to Anjuna for the New Years Eve parties. This is a techno-music beach with young European and Israeli tourists. It was a fun place to spend New Years Eve, but I can only take a certain amount of loud techno music. So I moved to Arambol which was more my style. From there I made many side trips by motorcycle to explore... Goa is the "place to be" during India's winter. It's not about Indian culture; it's about partying and chilling out.

My Canadian friends are leaving for Taiwan to teach English (check out Emil's YouTube videos about backpacking the world on his MonkeeTime Channel), but my Dutch and Spanish and Greek friends will be arriving soon, and I've met some Italians with whom I juggle and play footbag at sunset. Arambol has restaurants with great food, the vendors are not aggressive, and nothing is crowded. The surf is low which is great for swimming but not for surfing (the waves get big during the monsoon). There is Yoga and Tai Chi, and soon I'll look into that. This is the spot I've been waiting for. I moved to a nicer room where I can hang my hammock overlooking the beach. I paid up-front for a month and got a discount: USD$1 per night, the best hotel bargain ever.

February 2004 - Hampi

Hampi was once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Now it's a small town with 500-year-old ruins, one of the finest archaeological sites on the planet. Plus, this region's gigantic boulder fields create a surreal and energetic landscape. If you go to Goa or Bangalore, you should go to Hampi too. By the way, Bangalore is my final stop in India. I'd stay longer but this is a world tour, so it's time to leave India (for now). SE Asia beckons...

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