Archive for the ‘2008-01 to 02, India’ Category

Dubai

Monday, February 18th, 2008

With not a little regret we departed India. Yes the filth, societal attitudes and chaotic life there were daunting to live around. But there is such a long, incredible, historical past integrated with India that makes her so majestic to travelers. Not to fear though, since we quickly discovered that there are an abundance of friendly Indians (men only of course) working and living in Dubai. We knew hotels would be outrageous when we decided to stretch our four hour flight layover between India and Tanzania to three days, but still decided to have the experience. We managed to find a semi reasonable eight story hotel close to the “action” and the airport. It still cost us $699.53 for two rooms, for two nights each. There was another one for about $80 less per room per night, but it was about another 45 minutes (outside of rush hour) taxi ride away to the far East of Dubai near the secondary airport. It also had several very bad ratings on the trip adviser web site. This one even had a roof top pool which we never had time to make it to for the two nights we were there. That evening I bought some milk and disposable bowls to go with the boxes of honey nut corn flakes we still had leftover from India. Mmmmmm. Sure beat paying $15 each for toast and eggs downstairs!

That first afternoon, after checking in we headed to the “Mall of the Emirates” to try and go skiing for a two hour block. It turns out that strong proficiency is a must before beginners are allowed on the hill at all. Those who have never skied before (like Alex & Luke) MUST take a one hour “discovery” lesson first, and then work their way up through five additional 90 minute lessons before they can go on the chair by themselves. Worse yet, we discovered that all lesson slots for that day were full up until about 9:00 PM. Thus we promptly booked a discovery lesson and then a successive (and expensive) private lesson for the kids. We spent the remainder of the evening having a meal and fighting our way through rush hour traffic back to our hotel. We planned on seeing (and taking pictures of) the 7 star sail hotel and the new tallest building in the world in the daylight tomorrow.

The next day we had planned to leave by 10:00 AM for some daylight pictures before needing to be at the ski hill by noon, but it just didn’t seem to happen. Yet another lazy day found us getting out the door barely in time to have a quick bite for lunch at the mall, before needing to get the kids geared up for their introductory “discovery” lesson. After they were good to go and waiting for the instructor, Claudette and I went to get outfitted. All equipment was supplied except for a toque and gloves, which we had to buy. Claudette and I didn’t bother with hats, and Alex still hat her hat and gloves from China that she kept forgetting to send home in parcels. Luke and I had simply (and intentionally) left ours behind at Jim & Letty’s place since we couldn’t fathom needing them again. Alex kept hers cause she liked the colors and style, and wanted to use them at home next winter. The “ski” store had cheap little fleece children’s gloves for $5 or full size adult ski gloves for $22. Claudette could fit the kids ones, and I bought some for myself as well. There was no way my fingers could fit in, but there was also no way I was gonna pay that much for full sized gloves for only a few hours! Thus, after paying, I borrowed some scissors and cut all the tips of the fingers off. The guys behind the till were shocked and then understood what I was doing. The Aussie guy even suggested that he was gonna do that too since his fingers just got too warm and sweaty in the regular gloves. My only reply was that, “Yeah! It’s a great idea and the Chicks really dig it!” gave them an even bigger laugh.

I should make a note here for posterity’s sake about Claudette’s “fears”. “Some” women’s irrationality really astounds me sometimes, (and my wife’s asound me on a regular basis). The evening before we were going to go skiing, she was Hmmming and Hawing and generally fretting about possibly joining in the beginner lesson herself! Simply CRAZY!!! It took extensive convincing on my part (with an incredulous voice at first, that I slowly tamed into a soothing, convincing tone by the end of the discussion) before she agreed to give it a try on the hill first. She was worried that after almost fourteen years of not skiing that she would have completely forgotten how. Geeeessh!

I had forgotten the larger video camera, but Alex had remembered to bring her waterproof, shock resistant one along. So Claudette and I took a few runs while the kids were getting prepped and used to their ski legs. We took a bunch of photos and some video of their first forays on skis and going up the conveyor belt lift on the bunny hill. After that first lesson (one hour) we were all even a little cool, (but in a very refreshing way for Claudette and I). The kids private lesson wasn’t for another half hour, and their previous Austrian instructor allowed them to stay on the hill with me until the next lesson. Luke was a little combative about me making him work, but we practiced some more for the next twenty minutes before they had to go and meet their next instructor for the private lesson. That one went REALLY well, and both kids excelled dramatically. With ten minutes left, the instructor suggested we take Alex on the chairlift on the big hill while he stayed with Luke to get his left leg working better. By the end of the formal lesson I stayed with Luke on the bunny hill a bit longer to make him practice, but he was very frustrated with being left behind by Alex’s methodical skill at having mastered turning while in a snowplow.

When the kids cards would no longer work to get them into the lifts, Claudette had already decided to go along with Alex after a few trips to the top of the chairlift. I then managed to take Luke for two runs up the chairlift to get him a better chance of practicing that terrible right turn. On the second run, he got off the chairlift half way (nice and smoothly I should add) and I continued on to the top for the last run of the day. The “last run of the day” for skiers is notorious for including an injury, and this first “last run of the day” for me in over a dozen years was no different. As I was doing something that perhaps maybe I shouldn’t have, I fell in a spiraling cartwheel down the hill. I quickly got up and skied down the rest of the way to where Luke was waiting for me. At this point moving my legs was excruciating! and I barely made it the rest of the way down the hill with Luke, never mind carrying our ski’s in to get changed and leave. By this point, I realized that I had pulled my groin muscle HUGELY, and could barely but one leg in front of the other. When I explained this to Claudette her immediate reaction was not quite support. She lambasted me for doing something so stupid as she was now going to have to do so much more, and work harder carrying things. Ugh!

So after a hot soothing bath that night, I felt a little better. My family (some of them openly, some of them secretly) still snickered at my waddling around the room though. At the airport the next morning after checking in I asked and found out that the check-in gate was a twenty minute walk away. I causally inquired about borrowing one of the several wheelchairs sitting there and then was asked to wait a few minutes. About fifteen minutes later a man came up and got me in one, took my boarding pass and proceeded to wheel me away. I protested saying that my family could push me and that I didn’t need the “attendant” but he insisted that I wasn’t allowed to have a wheelchair on my own. Thus we were sped through a “special” line in security and taken to an elevator just beyond. Upstairs we all boarded an electric cart and rode most of the way though the terminals and gates to a special disabled waiting to board room. There was a sign asking family members of the crippled to wait outside, but the room was empty and so Claudette and the kids came in with me. There we enjoyed a free wifi connection, comfy seats and a distinct lack of noisy crowds. Mmmm… I managed to sneak out of the room and propelled myself across the great hall to the washroom. At the time of boarding I was pushed all the way to the gate while Claudette and the kids rode the moving sidewalks and we boarded. They had arranged a special elevator bus for me too, but I insisted on taking the regular bus and climbing the stairs from the tarmac to the plane myself. Whew!

The flight was not too bad, and I managed not to cramp up too badly. When we landed in Dar Es Salaam I tried to grab a wheelchair just inside the terminal but was firmly rebuffed! Only if I had made arrangements with the flight crew before landing could I possibly enjoy such a privilege I was told. So I sighed and waddled on shaking my head at the grand inequities of a world-class port like Dubai and the backwoods firm rules of Africa. The general friendliness and desire to accomodate in Dubai was very refreshing. This of course reminds me of a little story that one taxi driver had told us. Dubai seems to be a long narrow strip of land adjacent to the ocean. there are about six or seven major 6-8 lane roadways running parallel to the oceanfront at different intervals. Unfortunately there are still just too many cars on the roads. That fact coupled with the generalization that most people work in one half of Dubai and live in the other half make “rush hour” traffic crazy at best, and a two hour almost standstill at worst. This rush hour begins at 4:00 PM and goes until about 8:30 PM though.

So, as we were stuck for an hour and a half trying to take a trip we had previously done in 23 minutes, the driver told us about the sheik there. Apparently he’s a very down to earth kinda guy. We already knew about the sheik’s incredible vision in creating an incredible upscale tourist destination and a fantastic trading/port economy with the tax free zone. The Sheik also drives around in his own car, by himself. No driver, no bodyguards, no escorts, nothing. The only way the “people” know it’s him is from the Dubai license plate, simple “1” instead of the five digit number everyone else gets. There were a few other quaint stories that were interesting as well. the last one though involved the Sheik dressing up in old, dirty clothes. He had arranged for an old beater car, and often went driving around the town at 3:00 AM to see what tourists, the “common man” and his police force were up to. Apparently he’d made this foray into the nightlife many times, and once had caught a policeman taking a bribe or doing something bad. The policeman was fired, and all others were generally on their toes following the news. Sounds like a fun place to live, if one could afford it!

Slaves in the World Today

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

The snobbish class system we’ve encountered has been startling and frequent within Indian society I’ve noticed. Hotel managers or owners are constantly referring to their “Boys” doing this or that, and it felt like they were speaking of owning their workers. Time and time again I felt as though I was in the deep Southern States a hundred years ago. The poor are REALLY poor, and semi-content to be that way. There is an obvious aloofness or superiority with much of the portion of Indian society that we delt with. Educated tour guides would show open disdain to the poor or beggars that seemed to maraud us starkly caucasian tourists. Only one other situation stands out along similar lines outside of India, (the occasions were too numerous inside India to even discuss further). On our Laos tour, our tour guide was reasonably well educated (but a former Buddhist Monk Novice of twelve years!) and treated the hill tribe villagers we visited with seeming disdain. I was cautious about taking many pictures or walking off the beaten path, wanting to offer these people some semblance of privacy in their grass huts. He somewhat gruffly insisted that I take as many pictures of whatever I wanted, and go wherever I wanted. The exception of course being that I shouldn’t enter any huts. He did insist that I should take and pictures or video that I wanted through open doorways into their private lives. He would also portray slight arrogance as he calmly swept aside villagers in his way while walking, not even addressing them, just calmly carrying on his informative lecture and pushing them aside to walk through. It was a little weird and certainly disconcerting.

Back to Indians now for a moment. I got into a bit of a discussion upon arrival at the Dubai airport with an Indian couple in their sixties. As soon as the plane comes to a stop at the terminal people spring up and push up the isle as much as possible to get a better “spot” to get off the plane first. This means standing and waiting while crushed by a throng of others for at least ten minutes before the door at the front is even opened! I often don’t take kindly to such ridiculous line jumping, (as some of you might imagine). So, when I need to stand up and get our bags out of the overhead compartment, I simply look the person in the eye and kindly say excuse me. Not being used to direct shaming, they will invariably back up and reluctantly make room. When I hold the entire line up for an extra seven seconds to let my family out of the row, people further back seem to become incesnsed! This minimal description is ALL planes outside of North America so far by the way. Simply astounding the degradation of society elsewhere… (Not to say that North Americans are better in every way of course, I would never say such things about a continent that has produced a lying, thieving scumbag like Jean Cretin or an idiot puppet warmonger like George Bush.)

Now back to older Indian couple. Before waiting in the customs line at Dubai, I had changed our Indian currency for UAE money. They wouldn’t take several of the smaller bills however, and I was left with them. In the line, I turned to the couple beside me and offered them the money (it amounted to about $3 in several smaller bills). They were behind me previously on the plane I think, and still upset, and therefore couldn’t possibly entertain such a ridiculous thought as taking money from me. I was completely surprised by such behavior and then tried to give it to the woman who was closer to me and clearly in charge of the relationship. She tried to hand it back, and for fun I refused to hold out my hand to see how far she’d go to get rid of it. The money dropped on the floor and she lashed out at me that I should really have given it to the poor people in India! I insisted that we did indeed give abundantly to the poor throughout our trip around India. She was becoming more incensed with the money just sitting there on the floor as I continued by saying that perhaps the poor in India would do much better if the arrogant wealthier society took more care to look after them. Oooogh! I hit a nerve indeed. She suddenly took me back to an elementary school playground war of stupid words as she came out with this beauty, “at least our poor people are content in the ignorance and we need not waste any more effort on them!” My gawd, and she actually meant it too! This attitude had obviously rubbed off from several decades of British rule, but even in current day England I would sincerely doubt that such strong attitudes are still that pervasive in society. This I found absolutely depressing, similar to reading “Black Like Me” several years ago and the insurmountable obstacles he encountered with peoples attitudes.

PS: Yes, I do know I’m behind in my posts. I’m almost finished my Dubai one, but we’re already three days into Tanzania!

Mumbai and the End of India for Us

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

My intestinal disorder had more or less cleared up and we were excited to be in what was formerly Bombay, and also sad that this was it for India. Our booked hotel (Ugh, I don’t even know if we could call it that!) was the diviest of the dives. All of the “midrange” places ($50-$125) were solidly booked when we had called them from Fort Kochi. The Hilton’s, et all at $150/room at two rooms! were right out of our budget. Especially since we knew that Dubai was going to be in that price range for just a moderate quality place. So, we were stuck with the Volga. At least it had bathrooms in our rooms for $31 (or a shared bathroom for $18). Unfortunately our two rooms were on different floors and this wasn’t the kind of place we felt comfortable with the kids being that far away from us in. Thus Claudette and I split up to the two different rooms for a couple of nights. There were lots of street vendors set up all day long down the main road we were on and there were a couple of pretty good restaurants nearby that we ate at. Mumbai has to be the cleanest city in India that we encountered. Not to say that it’s citizens didn’t just dump crap wherever they wanted, just that the municipality tried to keep up with it more I think. Outside of our room window and one floor down was the rolling fiberglass roof (the stuff we use on greenhouses) of a second floor building below. The apartments on the other side of it from us had been tossing their rubbish out the window for quite a while it seemed and I’m surprised the roof hadn’t caved in. It was incredibly disgusting, but I still forgot to get a picture in the daylight.

We were in Mumbai for three nights and two full days before flying to Dubai. On our first day we walked about ten minutes to the India Gate and had a look around. The shady tour operators gave me some ideas of stuff I wanted to see and do around town. The next day though things seemed to be off to a slow start. Eventually Alex and I took off at about 3:00PM to just get out and do something. We grabbed a taxi to go to the “Hanging Gardens” Park, about 25minutes away. There were no hanging vines or plants in the end, but it was still a pretty nice park to walk around in and escape the massive chaos of 16 million people living together in a city with not near enough roads. (That can describe all cities in India though.) There were many young couples and families having a nice relaxing afternoon, and many hedges were trimmed in the shape of animals that Alex and I tried to guess at before reading the signs. There was an incredibly huge Banyon tree there as well, about 450 years old we were told.

Just down a little ways from that park was another one offering spectacular views of the city and bay below. We had driven up quite a hill to get to the parks and both Alex and I took a bunch of great pictures of the spectacular views. This park had a cool little Bonzai section and kids playground equipment at one end. Following that tour, we grabbed another taxi down the hill and got dropped of at one end of the beach. We leisurely walked along the length of the beach and enjoyed watching all the locals relaxing and enjoying their day of leisure. There was a storm drain outlet about 30cm deep that many people were washing themselves in or with. Yeach! This is after we’ve seen losta people urinate and defecate and dump out all sorts of toxic stuff into the sewers. The one other sad thing we noticed was the cutest little puppy diligently chewing on some sort of food scrap partially buried in the sand and surrounded by crows. Those nasty birds were taking turns walking close and nipping at his tail before running away from his wildly gnashing little puppy teeth. We got close enough to scare the crows away for a bit and give the puppy a little reprieve.

At the other end of the beach was a little fair going on with some small rides. We started noticing the little “ride-on” cars and motorbikes with transistor radios blaring and guys pushing kids around in them. Then as we got closer to the far end we noticed the jumping pillow, circular “vehicles” rides, (separated into cars, planes, and motor bikes) as well as a mini ferris wheel. We were horrified to see a bunch of guys climbing up the structure and grabbing a car (with passengers inside!) and riding it down to the ground about 4m below. This kept on happening and we wondered how the safety police could possibly let such a travesty happen, even in a sociaety which didn’t really value human life that much. This ferris wheel was going so fast (and partly because it was so small, only about ten cars) that some cars were tipping backwards and going almost upside down. That is to say that they were tipping backwards at about 160 degrees! Of course as we got closer I realized something odd about all of the ride equipment. There were NO hydraulic lines, ANYWHERE. The turning rides were completely human powered! Then I looked closer at the Ferris Wheel and it to was completely human powered! Those guys weren’t “riding” it down on the outside of the car, they were in fact PROPELLING it!!! This was rather a shock to my somewhat restricted modernized “Western” thinking I suppose. But they had come up with a novel concept and adapted it to their capabilities. Inginuitive more than anything really I would think. To slow it down they simply started grabbing the spokes and held them a bit until it slowed down. truly unique and bizarre at the same time.

After we grabbed an ice cream from a beach vendor, we hopped a taxi and asked to go to the museum. We’d read and heard from other travellers that it was a fairly good one, and we figured that we could walk fast through the boring parts. (My apologies to all our friends that are history teachers.) We ended up getting dropped off in a huge crowd and he pointed out a doorway that was the museum. The crowd was due to a big organized show/fair in the small park right in front. I think that we concluded in the end it was some sort of arts festival. People could help out a potter and make their own tiny little bowls, and there was a big coloring/drawing station set up for kids. As we continued down the closed off street, there was all sorts of modern artwork on display. Most was pretty cool and we both took a bunch of pictures. There was a pretty neat multi-artists display along a 100m section of sidewalk of addictions. When I noticed we were running out of time, we headed back around to the museum entrance. It turned out that it was actually the Modern Art Gallery of Mumbai, so I guess the driver didn’t really have a clue. Admission was free and we went in anyways. There was actually lots of very interesting and cool displays, but it was so crowded from the gathering of people outside that made the whole experience intolerable. We caught a taxi back to our hotel, which was only five minutes down the road and around a few corners.

Traffic conditions were superior and far more sane than anywhere else in Indi that we’d been to as well. There would only be four cars and one motorbike wide across three lanes, instead of five cars and four motorbikes across in Delhi and most other places. It was interesting to pick up a local (English) paper every week or two as well. The South has problems of North Indians coming down and stealing jobs and causing problems. In a country of 1.2 billion that has a crapload of states, I guess the long line of tribal tensions still run deep. This is a lesson difficult for most Canadians to grasp.

Claudette’s Impressions of India

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Well it’s been a month since arriving in India, overall I would say that I enjoyed it. The most memorable will be the people that we have met although I’m sure in the future we will also reminisce about the many loud sounds, awful smells and places both rich and poor, we’ve seen with our friends for quite a while. In the end I don’t think I will visit India again.

Surprisingly we’ve met a several Canadians while in India. Firstly we met Patti S. from Calgary, she was traveling for 5/6 months. We had a great evening in Jaipur comparing notes and just generally chatting about home. As well we’ve met 2 other Canadian families who are traveling the world for a year. Firstly it was the Gunn family of 6 from Calgary, although we didn’t get much of a chance to compare notes and chat. Check out the blog roll for their blog, listed as the Gunn Family.

Next we met the McBride family, Warren, Janice, Connor (14) and Alannah (12) from Ottawa at an internet cafe in Fort Cochin. We arranged to meet up for supper, where we had a great time comparing notes and swapping stories and the kids had such a great time too. We are going to try and meet up with them in Egypt. Check out the blog roll for their blog, listed as the McBride Family. As you know I’m not someone you usually muses much about fate and destiny however, as it turns out when we arrived at the airport on the 8th we found out that we were supposed to have flown out of Fort Cochin to Mumbai on the 7th. But if we had not missed our plane we would never had met the McBride Family, and as for our missed flight we had no problem catching the plane on the 8th and it only costs us about $100 extra. All in all I figure it was well worth it, as it was just great to have met the McBride’s.

Next we are off to Dubai for 2 days and then we fly to Tanzania on the 13th. I know that I don’t post many messages but please know that we all read all of your comments and we love any news from home. Missing all of you, take care! Claudette

In memories of India : (

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

As you now know We are leaving India ( a few moments of silence please …………………
thank you

ALL RIGHT !!!!! We are now going to bring up a few memories of India . India was a ………. ( two hours later ) and NOW the good stuff !!! When we first got to India I thought it was HORRIBLE all the horn honking and SUPER CRAZY drivers not crazy SUPER CRAZY But if I was to recommend a beach to someone with NO jellyfish, nice digging sand and low price chairs that come with an umbrella for five Canadian dollars. I would tell them about a beach in India called the lighthouse beach in Kovalam the sad thing is it might be the last beach we go to until we go to pine lake ( N.W.T Canada ) The Taj Mahal was great ( but I wrote about that already ) I liked the patterns on the wall .

My Conclusion of India

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

I’ve decided to add India to one of the places I want to go back to. Even though it was very dirty and saddening because of the poverty it is still a very very charming country. It was very funny because we were in Mumbai and we saw a really nice flapper dress and dad joked and said “ I’ve got an Idea! Instead of making the $600 round trip to Edmonton (for 4 people) and buying a $400 grad dress for you, we’ll make a $4000 round trip to India (for 2 people) and buy you a $10 flapper dress for your grad party!” I think that was one of my biggest laughs in India! I think the cleanest place was Mumbai, But the nicest looking place was Kovalam, the beach town. One of the most charming places was Agra (thanks to the Taj) and Delhi wins noiseist hands down! I wish we could have made a one or two day stop in Goa though.
Bye-bye!

India’s Almost Done… (Sadly)

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

While we thoroughly enjoyed the relaxation of Kovalam and the houseboats in Alleppey, it was time to move on to a more “robust” itinerary again. We had found a little guest house in Fort Cochin a little further North. Instead of messing around with train tickets and schedules, we arranged a car to meet us at the houseboats. This turned out to be the same price (within $5 I think it was) as buying four train tickets and getting a car to drive us and our luggage to the train station. The difference was that we were not in AC, it was a little more cramped than train seating, and we didn’t have to wait around for about five hours for the next scheduled train. That’s two minor bad points versus one huge positive!

Our place in Fort Cochin was actually a families home this time, (as compared to thousands of other small places in India that call themselves guest homes, but are actually small12-20 room Inns). I had great plans for getting out and around to actually see the place over the few days we were there, but those got scuppered in the end. We started off by finding a tuk tuk driver that gave us a price of $1.35/hr. This was a great price and the only store he mentioned was the spice markets, which we’d read about and wanted to see anyways. The way that most of these guys make money is buy commission from bringing tourists to stores. In fact, just bringing tourists by will often get them a little bit of gas money even. I started off by asking this guy about a specific bank’s ATM, and he said it was very close by. We started off at the Indian Naval museum, adjacent to their large base. An American guy was coming out as we were heading in and told us that it wasn’t worthwhile at all. I quickly calculated the admission, and for three adults and one child it was all of $2.50. Alex and I had both forgotten our cameras though, which was a bit of a shame, even though still and video camera prices were $4 and $7.50 respectively. Yikes!

There was an abundance of artwork and long descriptions of the situations depicted. Naturally the West cost of India has a very long history, and many of these historical stages were described. There was also many little artifacts like old (and newer from the 30’s) ship’s wheels, uniforms and all kinds of hand weaponry. Larger, modern weapons were displayed outside in the courtyard as well. Stingers, torpedoes and sea sparrows along with Russian made radar arrays and anti-missile ships defense systems were all carefully laid out and described. The dark hour came when myself, and then Luke both had to go to the washroom. (Incidentally, they’re NOT called that here. In fact, no one has a clue on what a washroom is! Tourists simply have to ask where the toilette’s are.) I was in urgent need and didn’t have time to stop and think about asking Claudette for the TP she keeps in her purse. Too late I realized this after I had sat down. Normally I would have considered using a couple of 10 rupee bills (about 28 cents), but this “incident” required something far more substantial, like perhaps half a full roll of the super fluffy from back home. Luke was by this time waiting for me to finish for his turn. I exclaimed that there was no way he could get in here without first getting me some wrap from Mom. I started having nightmares of having to use my underwear and rinsing them in the sink, and then repeating the process several times as required. Luckily, Claudette, Alex and the Tuk Tuk driver went to a store almost 15 minutes away (and just around the corner from our guesthouse we later discovered) to buy a couple of rolls. Thus was I rescued from certain death of possibly being trapped in that bathroom forever!

After this bit of fun time, I wasn’t in much of a great mood to continue touring, but thought I’d try. That’s when the driver lost his marbles. He was driving by a really nice old building and told us it was a former Palace. Then he pulled in to the parking lot, came through the covered round-a-bout and stopped. It turns out that it was now a store, and a very exclusive expensive one at that. I calmly suggested that we weren’t interested. He replied (about eight times) that we should just have a look, no pressure. We refused to get out of the tuk tuk and after a few minutes of a stalemate, he started it up and continued on. We had travelled a fair ways from the hotel by this point and I asked him again about that specific bank ATM. He replied that it was close by, and we would get to it about 4-5 stops later. I then pointedly asked him how much further to get directly to the bank and he admitted that it was about a half hour to three quarters of an hour away. I was visibly angry at these shenanigans now and told him to return us to the hotel immediately. He stopped at two other ATM’s (and one store) on the return trip and insisted I try our bank card. We already knew that it didn’t work at these branches, but I humored him. He dropped us off around the corner from our guest house (I didn’t want him to know EXACTLY where we were staying!) and he begged me to go into one more store across the street. He insisted that I wouldn’t have to buy anything, but that if I even only just went inside they would pay him gas money. I blatantly refused and explained why, (his deceiving us about the bank, and taking us to the other expensive “Palace” store). He agreed that he was bad, but still continued to beg for either of us to just go inside and look at the store. I felt badly for him, and simply shook my head as I walked away.

There were a couple of internet cafe’s close by and we spent a bit of time there catching up and making a bunch of skype calls. Luke and I got to chat with (and see video of) Lacie, Riley and Emile which was pretty cool. I also arranged with my brother for the kids to chat with Maddie the next morning (evening for them). Sadly, I never made it back the next morning. By late afternoon I was becoming quite feverish, and my stomach was churning up a storm! I then laid down and informed Claudette that there was no way in “H”, “E” double hockey sticks that I was going to be able to make supper with the family that night. I then proceeded to lay there burning up like the shuttle on re-entry, and unable to sleep from the aches & pains, and hallucinations. The next morning Claudette took the kids to the net cafe and made the appointment with Maddie. While there she met and talked with another family from Canada who were also traveling the world for a year, and were also just over the half way point. They were a great family (even though they were from Ottawa) and they set up a dinner date that evening for our two families.

I was feeling a bit better later on, and after catching up on a bit of sleep, I joined everyone for some fine Italian food. It was great meeting up and we swapped ideas stories and hints throughout the evening. One thing they had which we’d never considered was a travel smoke detector. They didn’t always use it, especially since most buildings are brick & mortar it seems. But, when on occasion they stayed in a place that did not inspire much confidence (and we have also stayed in some doozies, believe me!) they could use it as a safeguard. For picture backups they were couriering 2GB thumbdrives home every few weeks as they filled up. We are both planning on being in Egypt about the same time and hope to try and meet up with them. They are scheduled on a “Trek Adventures” tour for a week in there though, so we’re not quite sure what our joint timings will be like.

They next morning we booked a car for the 90 minute drive to the airport for our super cheap web-purchased flight to Mumbai. Of all things funny, we discovered that our scheduled flight was actually for the previous day and we’d missed it. This was rather devastating news considering that I had gotten such a good price, and plastered all over the website and tickets was a big “NO REFUNDS OR CHANGES FOR THESE SUPER SPECIAL PRICED TICKETS!” Ooooops! Being Jet Airways (a great Indian airline to deal with) he rescheduled us for that days flight with only a $25/person change fee. Whew! in the biggest way imaginable….

Missing our plane also proved to be a bit fortuitous in that we wouldn’t have met up with the McAdams family if we had caught our flight the previous day.

TIME FOR BOOKS, (Lots of it!)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

One great thing about traveling is all the spare time. Yeah right; well I mean spare time compared to “normal” life. We met an American couple one night while on the backwater houseboat cruise that was also traveling. They landed in Mumbai, flew directly to Aleppey to take a one night cruise, and then their whirlwind started. They were next going to Calcutta for a friends wedding, then through Thailand, before finishing in Cambodia (Angkor What) and flying home from there. I asked if they had two months or three to do that in. Hah! They laughed, and told us… NINETEEN DAYS. That’s from home to home. I started calculating in my head, but they gave me the answer of nine days of travel, with barely 10 days of wedding, tours and relaxing. Relaxing indeed! Certainly not by my definition…

On to books then. The rest of this post should be considered completely whimsical and irrelevant, (dare I say maybe even boring?). We have all been reading lots while traveling. While Claudette and I are pretty selective and/or frugal about buying souvenirs and “stuph” we’re freewheeling in a bookstore. When no used stores were around, we’d even spend full retail prices on stocking up on material to read. Mostly though, there have been a good variety of used bookstores. If there’s no used bookstore in a place, then there is likely no new English bookstore as well. The exception to that is two times (once in Peru, once in SE Asia) where I thought I’d found a nice English bookstore, but it turned out to be a religious materials (typically Catholic) store instead.

Luke has gone through the latter six books of the Harry Potter series over the last five months. The only thing slowing him down is waiting to find the next number of book that he needs. Once we buy it, it’s usually devoured in a couple to several days, depending upon what other “tourist” things we have planned. Alex has gone through a pretty wide assortment as well. In Thailand I bought some sci-fi books and insisted that the kids read some before going on to their own choices. Specifically I grabbed “I Robot”, “2001” and the first “Lucky Star” novel from Asimov. Alex kinda enjoyed I Robot, but I changed my mind about making Luke read it just yet. I want them both to have a desperate fascination and deep appreciation for the genre, and that can only happen by them “discovering” it at their own pace. Alex did also read 2001, and Luke enjoyed the Lucky Star story, but what boy wouldn’t?

In Kovalam I’d picked up 3001 in paperback. I had really enjoyed the first two, (2001 & 2010) when I was younger. 2061 was pretty good too, but I’d always neglected to get 3001. I thought to myself that there was simply no way he could tie them together and make this last one worthwhile. Really though, I think I was just making excuses for not being able to afford the hardcover. Anyways, am I EVER glad I picked it up. the story was masterfully pieced together and with strong scientific fact that Asimov is so famous for. It was such a phenomenal read that I enjoyed tremendously. Most sci-fi authors create alternate realities that you escape too. Asimov immerses the reader in what raelly seems to be the future telling of mankind’s history. He makes everything so seamlessly real and integrated, that we can easily see that this is truly what will be happening to our society. Fahrenheit 451 affected me the same way, for they are seemingly more social commentaries utilizing some sci-fi concepts as a vehicle for that commentary. Gattaca, the movie, (I haven’t had the opportunity to find the book at all yet) also came across that way.

The other cool thing about 3001 was that Asimov took a few pages to describe how the stories all came together. 2001 originated as a relatively obscure short story until Kubrik contacted him to collaborate on something amazing together. I was always under the impression that 2001 had stood on it’s own as a popular novel long before the movie. The copy of I Robot that we originally got in Phi Phi Don, Thailand Alex went through only to discover that the last dozen or so pages were missing. I took it back the next day and demanded (with difficulty too!) a refund. This store was way high priced to begin with, and didn’t give us any sort of deal on buying about eight books altogether, so I was still burned a little from that. After giving me the money back, the girl started taping up the book at the back where the pages were lost from. She then proceeded to put it back on the shelf when I was outside (we were in a rush to catch our ferry in ten minutes). I immediately went back in and started to berate her (in front of many other customers) for trying to sell a book with missing pages at the back. I slyly noticed that ALL the other customers started checking the backs of the books in their arms, and one girl put one book of the three she was carrying back on the shelf. I insisted to the store clerk (in the friendliest possible way of course) that the incomplete book belonged in the garbage, where she eventually gently placed it. I’m pretty sure though that she took it out as soon as I was gone from sight.

I also had grabbed a couple of short story compilations from Bradbury, and have knocked off a few of those here and there when I only had a short time to focus. When we were in Costa Rica, the Alaskan guy we met gave me Heinlein’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” which I still haven’t brought myself to open. I’m not sure why… probably because he was so close to Farmer (Phillip Hose’ Farmer) in the bookstores when I was a kid, and I somehow resented that??? Who knows. The only four-time Hugo Award winner can’t be the least bit bad of an author though, and it’ll be the next one I pick up to read. I’ve also been carrying around a copy of “Cather in the Rye” for quite awhile unread. NO! This does not make me a closet presidential assassin! I finally read it on the houseboat one afternoon. It was rather anti-climactic considering infamous associations of this book. Actually, the entire story was disappointing to the end that he didn’t commit suicide when it was the most likely (in fact almost the ONLY possible) conclusion the story could have produced. Perhaps it was most notable in literary circles for the rapid fire, conversational narrative method used by this ever so “depressing” character. Those who have read it, will get the inside on that comment. Now, I just need to find “The Great Gatsby” and get it crossed off my “To Read” list.

We eventually found another bookstore in Northern Thailand with another copy of I Robot. This one was even better though because it was the 50th anniversary edition and it included all sorts of extra dialog of an interview with Asimov. His thoughts and reflections were as wonderful to read as the original and inspiring story itself. Claudette was incredulous that this book would appear one day in the “To Be Mailed Home” pile we were sorting. I tried to explain, but I don’t think I was successful. All she understood in the end was that “Yes, sending this ratty old stoopid book home is, in fact, important to me rather than buying a new one from Amazon after we get home” (As if she would really support me doing so then, never mind the difficulty in finding the same edition). Wives just don’t understand sometimes I guess… (Except for you probably Lacie!) I sure wish Asimov could have been around for the utopic world unified government that he envisioned and wrote about in so many stories for the last half century! Anyways Tim, both 3001 and that I Robot copy are on their way to you (in the next couple of days when I find a post office) for safe keeping (and reading of course) until we return home. AGH! That’s in only five months!!!

Alleppey “Backwaters” – The Ultimate Relaxation

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

India was hit by a massive internet connection shortage a few weeks ago with an underwater cable problem. Then, a few days ago just after we left Kovalam there was another problem somewhere else which caused even more widespread outages. I’m pretty sure that the government closed down most of all the country except major IT hubs like Mumbai and Delhi that service North America. We stayed one night in Alleppey (sp?) before embarking on a two day backwaters houseboat cruise. Thus we have no internet anyways and are just cruising around in complete relaxation, devouring books and absorbing the incredible scenery. Once we get done the cruise, we still might not have access to the internet for a few (or several?!) days.

The cruise has really been amazing! The city is relatively close to the ocean, but there was a rather large inland lake only a few kilometers in. About 35 years ago the government built earthen dams reinforced with “placed” and mortared rock on the outsides for erosion protection. These dams hold in about four meters of water back from vast plains of rice paddies that are about two meters vertically lower than the canal water levels. The system of dikes is comprehensive and truly amazing! They seemingly stretch forever in all different directions. There are “homesteads” built upon small patches of raised ground all along the place. Occasionally schools, stores and general ferry drop-off/pick-up piers crop up around different corners. There was even one Catholic church (& rectory presumably) in all it’s brightly painted glory out by itself with nothing else around it but the canal on one side and hectares of rice on the other side. Just now as I’m typing, we passed by a standard highway sign telling us that it’s 79km to Kollam. Very cool! For these waterways are indeed a true local highway system just as in Venice, or the blacktop snaking across the prairies at home. Many guidebooks (and other travelers we have spoken with) have described the experience as an absolute must when visiting India, right after seeing the Taj Mahal. We all completely agree.

The boat we settled on is $125/night including two bedrooms, three meals a day, losta bottled water and a friendly crew of three. This was the least expensive boat I came upon when checking the day before we wanted to cruise. Most were another $50-$75 more, but that was certainly for nicer quarters, plus air conditioning! There are attached bathrooms in each bedroom with a poor excuse for a shower, but we’re all gonna need a good wash after the sweat of the muggy days and a tiny (and noisy!) fan in our bedrooms. There were even a couple of boats that I looked at that were more than double this one’s price. They were opulently decked all out and I presume would serve even more delux meals. Our food was OK, nothing spectacular but hearty enough. The fish for lunch was really great, but the chicken had some very weird bones in it that I’ve NEVER seen before in a chicken. Claudette silenced me immediately so as not to freak out the kids and to not appear rude to the crew. Hah! Me rude to them??? They’re the ones that are serving my family mystery meat!! Claudette also saw a fair sized rat peak it’s head out. During our second night’s meal, I waited until everyone else was done their meat before show & tell. There were many pieces that certainly resembled chicken, but… I got this one little ever so cute side of a rib cage. The little ribs were only about 2.5cm long, and I figured they were just supplementing the chicken with “other” animals or rodents. After they were done their meat, I showed the rest of the family my little half a rib cage. Horror! Claudette quickly (and forcefully) theorized that Indian chickens were built just a little differently than North American ones. She also then quickly added that it was also a STRONG possibility that this was just a different part of the chicken that we don’t typically use. I’m pretty sure her semi-panicked reactions were almost more for her benefit of keeping her head in the sand than for the kid’s benefit. Anyways, Luke was a little worried about eating a possibly not normal part of a chicken before Alex filled him in on what I was REALLY suggesting. Claudette didn’t tell the kids about the rat she’d seen the previous day. The first morning I heard them scurrying around in the ceiling like crazy, but didn’t hear them otherwise. Maybe that was cause the cook had caught them later that day after I heard them??? 🙂

What I also didn’t mention to anyone else was that I went back to the kitchen for a moment on our second afternoon. The “kitchen” itself was a pretty poor excuse for cleanliness, let me tell ya! If you are booking a trip in the future, always go on the boat and check it before committing. Most people check the bedrooms and bathrooms, but I’d suggest skipping them and heading straight back to the kitchen. Naturally everything will be “tidy”, but open some cupboard doors and check the cutting board. That will really tell you a story. When I went back, the cook was outside a window on a ledge cleaning fish for supper in the canal waters. Hmmm, OK. Gross I guess but certainly not out of the norm. All day long the locals bath in the canal or swim in it as well as do laundry and catch fish to eat. I don’t even want to consider sanitation. There certainly was no capacity or infrastructure for sewage tank pump-outs in the many, many homes along the canals. That can leave only outhouses. That in a place where the water table is super saturated, and at only 0.5m below the ground level! Never mind the houseboats themselves. I would make a gross presumption that all sewage is in a holding tank and pumped out at the end of each trip, but ya just never know!

We are currently in a car driving from Alleppey to Kochin (or Kochi on some maps). This is only a distance of 65km, and we do reach speeds of 80kph, but… it will still be a 90 minute drive. That’s due to the constant braking, then abruptly speeding up again, before madly braking ten seconds later waiting to pass the next pothole/animal/bicycle/tuk tuk/car/truck/bus. I really need to write a whole seperate, (huge) post just on traffic in India. It realy does boggle the mind. We’re booked in to Kochin for three nights before our flight to Mumbai.There’s a fort here to check out, and hopefully an internet connection and maybe even a swimming pool! (That’d be nice!) In the back of my mind I kind of wanted to all go out and see a movie in India. Even if it was in Hindi with English subtitles, that would’ve been alright, but I’ve not had any luck finding one so far. I’m sure we will in Mumbai, (they likely have English “talkies” there) but it would have been cool to find one somewhere else.

BACK ON BOARD

Monday, February 4th, 2008

WOW, we’re finally back on board since the Galapagos. We booked a boat for two nights we are just about to have our second night on board we leave tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM.When we got on the boat we explored the boat I found a part that you could have a good view and a nice place to read . We left the dock at 11:00 AM ( of course you knew that is was AM whey would we leave at PM thats a bit to late to be leave ) and then I read the book harry potter 6 and number 7 now now I have read 1 though 7 it took me 26 days ( it took Alex 2 month to read the first book but she was in grade 2 at the time ) I did not care much for the food it was a bit spicy but the last meal for dinner was the best the meat did not have any sauce . but the bad thing was that the ribs were to small to be a chicken (maybye rat 🙁 )

really missing everybody,love Luke : )

I really didn’t mean to throw out my sea legs!

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Not that we are on the sea again. We’re just on a house boat (a very nice one I must say!) in Alapie (Alapy?) which has lots and lots of river like canals. There is quite a few small lakes I think if I was in charge I would be desperately lost! It is very fun though (except for all my nightmares about the boat sinking!) The houseboat seems very big! It has a little ladder where you can go up to a roof top lookout thingy. It provides very many pictures opps up there! It has a main kinda deck with some chairs (which is where we mainly are!) then a hallway then a door for mum and dads bedroom, after that (still a hallway) is a little open area for a table and chairs (where we eat the meals) then you go a bit furthers and its me and Luke’s bedroom then beyond that is where the crew members are (theres only three of them) I not sure about their sleeping arrangements but I know that two of them pull out mattresses and sleep in the “dining room”. I haven’t quite pecked up the courage to go beyond me and Luke’s room but I will tomorrow because I want to get a couple of pictures of the entire ship. Since we’ve been on the boat I’ve had a bit of trouble eating 3 meals a day again but its sorta easy because its all Indian food so I don’t eat as much as I normally would.

We met another Canadain family touring (they said they were voluntouring). I think their last name is Gunn. I just checked and it is. We never really could get down to chatting with them, we only pulled them over on the side of the road to say hi and where we were from and that (we also only really saw them again once). I have to say I am going to miss the beach but this trip is beginning to feel like school. Blink an eye at the start of the year and its christmas. Very soon we are going to be in Egypt! We are almost done India! And it seems like it was years ago when we were in China! So the house boats are really nice! not much else but please make sure to look at the pictures and expect to hear my conclusion on India soon!
S’all for now, bye!!!!!

FIVE MONTHS LEFT!

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Past half way…. How absolutely shocking!

Today we left Kovalam, (semi-reluctantly) and took the train a few hours North to Alleppey. Kovalam was a great beach, and we spent a week and a half there! (Instead of the four days we originally planned.) The guide books we had read labeled Kovalam as becoming quite expensive, but we found accommodation there as a rule to be quite a bit cheaper than Phuket in Thailand. It was similar to Nai Young beach (on the Northwest end of Phuket, by the airport) in being relaxed and very uncrowded though. The hotels here were all on the sidewalk as opposed to most of Phuket where a sea view is very unlikely due to typically being set back from the road, across from the restaurants, in front of the beach. At the high end resorts in Phuket, every room gets a sea view, (and a private pool with some) but who can affourd a few to ten grand per night!?!? There are many hotels at lighthouse beach in Kovalam, that are set back behind the ocean front hotels that offer considerably cheaper rates. For a second floor large AC room, with sea view and a nice large balcony and hanging swing, we paid $54/night. In Phuket, we paid $30/night for a kinda gungy, very basic fan room, and was a five minute walk to dip your toes in the ocean. At the same place there, we also paid $80/night for a semi-gungy AC room, same distance to the salt water. A nice AC room was $110/night! and all of these rooms were only two beds, (so we needed two rooms) while in India we got three beds and one mattress on the floor. Here at lighthouse beach, an AC room set back behind the beachfront hotels is only about $30/night, and a four minute walk to the ocean. Restaurant meals were slightly cheaper in Phuket, and alcohol was far more readily available, but the accomodation in Kearla, India gives more bang for the buck overall. If I were wanting to vacation with just the purpose of relaxing on the beach and nothing else, I’d hafta choose India. Yes, even with the craziest driving we’ve seen yet and all the filth & refuse everywhere.

The street vendors in India were far more plentiful and wickedly aggressive than we were used to from Thailand. I got bored with the t-shirt vendors and put together almost an impossible request for a shirt. I said I was only interested in the local beer logo (Kingfisher) in a L or XL tank top. I spent a little over an hour one afternoon going from shop to shop making this particular request (all in the name of my neighbor Dallas). I did actually want a shirt like that for him if someone actually came up with one, but wasn’t in a rush to get one. The purpose of spending this time initially was so that when I was walking by each of them the next day and the harranged me, I could glare at them and remind them that they didn’t have the one I wanted. After two days, I was no longer bugged almost at all. One guy cheekily suggested that all tourists looked alike, and of course I can’t blame him for such an observation. A few of them remembered me and still asked me to come inside and look at all their other stuff. Looking to make myself stand out even more, I began quizing them about their most popular t-shirt. It was the famous semi-profile of Che Guvera with his first name at the bottom. To any vendor who forced me to come in for a second look at their store, I promised to buy twenty Che shirts for a high price. The condition was that they had to tell me anything about who he was: his profession, his ideals, country he was born in, what he did in Cuba or South America or specifically Bolivia, or what happened after he died. Needless to say no one had a clue. Well, one guy knew that Che was a Commie, since the local star & sickle party uses his profile as their logo. (Quick note to Craig or anyone else planning a trip: taking twenty minutes and getting the kids (and the parents) to brush up on a little of his history will serve you all well in similar situations in South America and throughout Asia. Che seems even quite a bit more popular on shirts in Asia actually.

Alex and I also collected some clothes together to take to one of the many tailors around for some repairs. Various rips, holes and weak threads at seams and on buttons just seem to happen more when you’re only wearing two (or three sets of clothes) it seems. My suitcase handle (nylon webbing on cordurra) also needed a corner strengthened a bit after some airport handler had obviously reefed on it a little too hard. So we went for a walk down the beach and found one guy who gave me a pretty reasonable price, ($2.20 for about 25 minutes work on seven pieces). He couldn’t do the suitcase though, and pointed me in the direction of a couple of cobblers who had sturdier machines. The cobbler also charged $2.20 but he had to take apart a dual liner to sew it inside properly, so it was about a half hour of work. Well worth it to me anyways. At the first tailor, I aksed him to try and sew a secret pocket in my Eddie Bauer shorts identical to the one in my Tilley shorts. That was out of the question and far too much work apparently. When I returned to pick up our stuff he said he could make me the secret pocket after all. I was pretty excited and asked how much. He replied that he’d do it for $17. I thought about how much stitching he’d have to carefully take apart to do this propperly and agreed to what I thought was a fair price. Then he takes me in back of the shop where there are rolls and rolls of various material. I told him just make it a close match to the existing shorts. He looked at me funny and suggested that maybe I’d want a different color to have more variety. I was puzzled, but then he also commented that he wanted me to pick the thickness of the material from the huge variety of rolls. I told him to just pick some smaller sized left over scraps from a previous tailoring job. Now he really looked at me funny and picked up a piece the size of which was perfectly suitable for a pocket. He’s semi-excitedly (in a freaky, worried way) shaking the piece and saying, “I can’t build shorts out of this!!!” The light goes on! He had quoted me $17 for a whole new pair of custom designed shorts, copied from the Tilly’s complete with a secret pocket! Wow! I explained the communication/perception problem and we both got a chuckle. He also made sure to let me know that even for that price he wouldn’t take apart the existing ones and add the pocket. Still way too much hassel and work apparently. The good news is that I have a new, very well done pair of custom shorts (complete with secret pocket) for a great price! He even brought the waist in 4cm to fit me better than the Tilly’s. Life is good…

The train ride this morning was nice but pretty uneventful. We paid extra for an AC car, so it was pretty uncrowded. None of the stops were announced or had signs outside as Malaysia & thailand did. Thus we had to keep pretty good track ourselves or miss out. Our room in Alliepey is really basic, with a bathroom, a fan and no AC. It is also only $23 for four beds though. The main purpose of tourists coming here is for their famous houseboat tours. These are quite large boats, fairly wide and with wicker and thatched superstructures, (by looks from the outside). On the inside though, they are pretty delux mansions to tour around the backwater canals and see country life at a relaxed, pastoral pace. I looked at several before agreeing on one for tomorrow, for a two night cruise. They are about $125/night for four people for fan rooms and three meals a day. AC rooms run about another $40/night. Some of them were decorated more sumptuously than the nicest home I’ve seen, with crafted wood cupboards and wardrobes, and marble finished bathrooms. Those run about $300/night, (including AC of course!). We shall see what tomorrow brings!

In the meantime, I secured a fantastic deal on flights from jet Airways while scouring the net a few days back. This was the same airline we flew business class with just after Christmas, and Claudette had also found that deal on the net. We were planning on a 22 hour train ride from Kochi up to Mumbai, but I found a 100 minute flight for only $10 more each. Hmmm, not a tough decision!

Doing Nut’in, at the Beach…

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

We keep hearing stories from other travelers (friends & strangers alike) about how carzy busy and expensive Goa is. Kevin & Laura even strongly suggested staying either North or South of the tiny state. So, in kovalam we switched hotels to a much less expensive one that’s right on the beach, and have decided to stay even longer and do nothing. Claudette had a slightly adverse reaction to the Malerone, and has stopped taking it. The kids and I are generally fine with it though.

The beach is nice, with a pretty big wave, and a nice (but short when the tide is in) beach. We’ve negotiated down to $54/night for the room, so that helps our bank account a bit. The sun is shining and life is good! We plan on leaving Kovlam now about Jan 31. From here wee will head North a bit to Kollam or Allipy (sp?) for a houseboat tour, and then wander further North to Mumbai for our Feb 11 departure.

Hope all is well back home (and by home, I am of course referring to Canada AND Australia) with everyone!

Pictures Update

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

We have finished getting caught up on picture uploading today finally.
http://pics2008.jamesworld.ca

Tomorrow we switch to a cheaper hotel, but are still at Lighthouse Beach in Kovalam in Southern India. We will not have as decent internet there, but we won’t be doing anything but relaxing anyways, (and that’s hardly worth reporting).

Alex is becoming wonderfully experimental with her new digital camera. The kids were taking all sorts of wild shots with it in the water as well. The first couple of underwater shots are of fish in a Spring fed pond in the middle of a Sikh temple complex that has a real gold roof. She also took a picture of a large framed photo of another more famous one in NW India that had even more gold. While we didn’t get to it in person, she insisted it’s worthiness for the gallery.

Other notable shots include a cannon ball hole in the wall of a building at the Agra Red Fort. This was the governing Palace and garrison of the King (Maharajah really) that built the Taj Mahal. The very hard white marble of this royal family residence is the same that built the Taj and with the same beautiful precious stones inlay artistry. In Delhi we also saw a regiment of camel calvary going down the street which was pretty cool. Right out of AOE!

There’s also a couple of shots of Luke at various monuments when he was captured by other tourists for photos with them. Alex has been asked a couple of times too, but fat chance of that! Luke is also shown sprawled out on a super soft silk carpet that was dirt cheap, and still miles out of our reach.

Pictures of the World’s largest Cannon and the baby brother of the World’s largest sundial round it all out. This sundial (with Luke posing at the top) was one of many very cool astronomical instruments that the Maharajah built in Northern India. This one could read time in 20 second increments, while the larger one (not shown yet) is 20+m tall and can read time in two second increments. The cannon was only fired once. It was a test shot and the ball traveled over 35km!!! About the same time the cannon was done at this Jaipur fort, a wall (similar to China’s) was completed all around the area. It was along the tops of mountain ridges, and probably included only about 20 square km.

How do you get another car of tourists to stop when you know that they’re from Canada? Lastly is a shot of Rick holding up his makeshift sign that made the Gunn family notice us. We stopped and chatted along the side of the road for a bit and then later in town. They had the exact same MEC rolling duffel’s that we are all using. Patti had the same one as well, which shows to go ya what a fine product it must be, (and super handy for world traveling!).

New Blog for YOU!

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

That’s right… For all our friends and family to throw up some news, gossip tidbits or whatever. Being that we’ve missed some pretty major events while traveling. (Examples: Canadian dollar above the Bush dollar, $100/barrel of oil, Alice’s accident, Lawrie’s passing, economy purported to be about ready to tank, Aussie election results, Brian & Coco leaving town.)

Sadly, this means that people will need to sign up again for the new blog. Luckily you’ve (mostly) all done it once and are easily familiar with the simple process. The address is as simple as this one:

http://friends.jamesworld.ca

So come one, come all! Send us your dinner stories, birthday party stories, and home news that comes to mind that we won’t read at www.cbc.ca. It’s even really simple to upload pictures to within the same blog posting you are making. Have Fun!

India’s Airports and All Trip Hotels

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

We have exchanged reviews of hotels with many other travelers which has been quite valuable. We’ve also had a couple of e-mail requests for suggestions in various places so I’ve compiled a separate web page discussing accommodation and reviewing hotels for our complete trip. It is: http://hotels.jamesworld.ca Many of the places we’ve been to are empty still, but Claudette and I will work on that over the next several weeks. There are a few different managed websites that allow users to rate places as well. We haven’t done any yet, but Claudette plans to put some in at: http://www.tripadvisor.com

The airports here in Delhi (and probably most of the rest of India) are what I would consider to be a disaster. The international terminal (we saw arrivals only) is small, enormously crowed and a complete unorganized madhouse of taxis, hawkers and scoundrels outside. Even late at night when we arrived, there was such an immense throng of crowded people that it was very difficult to find our pre-arranged guide. After he called the driver, it took another 25 minutes or so for the car to get close enough to the exit to pick us up.

We just went through domestic boarding for our flight to South India, and it was a similar madhouse. First of all, there are two separate terminals for domestic departures not close enough together to walk in between with baggage. Actually, robust go-getters probably could walk the just under 1km distance, but there is no allowances for foot traffic. It would be absolutely suicidal to attempt this without a protective car body around you. Once you figure out which of the two domestic terminals you are going to (it’s not marked on the tickets!) more pushing and fighting begins. In the foyer of the terminal are the ticket counters of the various airlines. We had to go through a secure door first to get to the check-in counters area. First in this area though each airline has a checked baggage X-ray. At the check-in counter all carry-on pieces are given special tags that must be filled out and attached. Security is a crowded unorganized affair starting with two long lines. Women are taken in separately on the left side, and at the front since there are so few of them traveling. As with all security screenings so far, (at airports & monuments) they are checked behind a curtained wall by other women. The men have two badly overloaded x-ray machines for carry-on baggage and jackets. Trays are only begrudgingly offered, and everyone is asked to put their cell phones and personal effects in their bags. This is to prevent theft on the other side, since the lineups for walk-throughs are much longer and bags will sit unattended for a few (or several!) minutes while people go through the body pat-down. After the mad zoo that is security, the noisy and crowded (but thankfully smoke free) waiting room sits, taunting you to find two seats together, (much less four). There are no planes at all that dock at the domestic terminals, so every goes to and fro by tarmac bus.

Delhi is constructing a new airport in time for them hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This will combine all terminals and passenger services into one building thankfully. Driving by it, I have my doubts that it will be completed (and the old ones demolished, cause they’re in the way) in the next thirty months, but I guess we’ll see. When fully completed and operational, they will have a whole bunch of buses looking for a new home. Actually, there are quite a number of new projects on the go for the 2010 games. Very similar to Beijing (who are in the frantic last six months of construction projects before hosting the Aug 2008 Olympics) there is large scale construction everywhere. Subways, hotels, roads and raised expressway construction are constant headaches to the already extremely chaotic traffic.

India Three

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

I have completely given up maintaining a separate electronic log as well as occasional blog posts. Instead, I seem to have switched my thinking to focusing my own personal journal of events and activities into the blog as well. This naturally makes the posts longer, and with occasional more frivolous detail, but a large part of it is to be my own personal record of memories for when I’m too old to get out of bed, (much less travel). I won’t feel the least bit slighted when people skip large sections. Exceptions of course are for my parents, Keizer’s, and the Gauthier’s. There will be a test on everything later to ensure your complete absorption of every word and punctuation mark.

A couple of responses to my last post about India’s omnipresent filth necessitate some further explanation. The origin of the feces common everywhere is not limited to animals sadly. The second worst smells encountered are the horrid stench of rotting discarded food. The abundance of roaming animals (dogs, cows, pigs, goats, monkeys, camels, elephants and occasional cats) seem to eat a lot of these food scraps thankfully. Rotting food smells still abound everywhere one walks though. Even though it’s “winter” here it’s nicely warm enough during the day to wear sandals. We are hesitant to though, due to the refuse everywhere and the possibility of getting it in our toes and on our feet so easily. The worst smell I alluded to a few sentences ago is urine. The stench is constantly overpowering. Obviously it’s mostly from men, (we’ve walked or driven by many) but we’ve even seen one woman hike up her dress a bit and squat and go. We saw a few women go in the street or alley in China though. Anyways, the ridiculous controversy last summer of a few public urinals along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton (removed during the daytime) seems crazy when considering the alternative smells that will offend everyone long after the fact.

Back to the animals for a moment. We had long heard stories of cows roaming the streets etcetera, but were really unprepared for the immensity of them everywhere. I think that the kids have counted more dogs here in India so far than the rest of the world combined! After the tonnes of roving K-9’s in Latin America and Southeast Asia, that’s a whole lot of dogs!!! The cows are numerous as well. What a huge shame we can’t get a good prime rib on any menu here. The interesting thing is that they are not skittish at all, having grown used to just being there. Cars drive past both sides of a cow standing and relaxing in the middle of a road without slowing down to less than 60KPH. There’s no swerving either, if I rolled down the window and reached my arm out I could touch the animals as we race past. Goats and pigs are equally un-startled, but usually stay in the ditches or along the sidewalks nosing around for scraps. Driving in India is bad enough, but to create a good traffic jam, one would only have to dump a bunch of old rotting food in the middle of the road. Drivers would be stymied waiting for the huge crowd of animals sure to gather in the area and blocking all accesses. At least the elephants and camels had “drivers” as they plodded along.

Alex and especially Luke have had a tough time (mainly since entering Asia) not petting dogs, or touching other animals even though it would be easy to. The diseases, filth, fleas and mange are just rampant. The mange especially is horrible! So many dogs we’ve seen since entering Thailand have just scratched themselves raw and have open wounds from the mange. It is terrible and very sad to see. It also took frequent explaining to Luke to convince him to just say a prayer for them rather than helping them scratch.

I had forgotten also in the previous post to describe our guide in Jaipur. He was certainly the best one we’d had yet in India so far and was very knowledgeable. Still though, he took us to some pretty high pressure shops which was quite annoying. One other thing he did was also a little sneaky. At the original Jaipur Fort and Palace just outside the city proper we have to walk a ways up the hill to get to the entrance. The hill has stairs for people, and a switchback ramp for vehicles or elephants. At the bottom in the parking lot, the guide said we could either walk way up there, (just over 110m vertical maybe) rent a 4WD jeep, (with emphasis on the excitement of a 4WD) or take an elephant ride, (with the most emphasis on this option). Walking in the end only took us just under fifteen minutes. The jeep option was only $6 for the five of us (including the guide of course). The elephant was $16 for only two passengers, so we’d need two for $32 for a little walk up the hill. There were LOTS! of people taking this option though. Many were old and needed to save their energy for getting around in the Palace I guess. Most were just doing it for the experience though. The part where the guide disappointed me though was his heavy emphasis on the two money options. We had hired the Toyota wagon and driver for the week though. So I asked the guide if we couldn’t just drive up there with our current vehicle rather than paying for a 4WD. The switchback road looked entirely doable by an old Austin Mini, never mind our six cylinder wagon. The guide stumbled a moment, and then agreed that, yes, if we wanted he supposed we could just drive up to the entrance. I guess they just have to spread the tourist wealth around. I’m sure I saw a little wry smile from our driver though, since he’s been incredibly fair and respectful of us so far. He also seems to know that we are not filthy rich and appreciate not getting screwed over. As Alex mentioned though, the driver can’t really object to the guides suggestions in front of him though.

While shopping at one textile store I abandoned Claudette a few minutes early while she was being shown the progressively nicer works. I had seen a tiny kite store a little ways back down the alley and wanted to have a look. It was about 2m x 3m, but the guy had a lot of stuff. Reels, (plastic, wood & homemade bamboo ones) string, and all kinds of basic designed kites. The homemade bamboo reels were about $0.58 while the plastic ones were about $1 (string for bot6h sold separately). The kites were made of two splintered bamboo sticks with a rectangular piece of heavy tissue paper glued on as the surface. They were only about thirteen cents each. Most had strips of the colored tissue paper cut out with different colors glued in. In Jaipur there had apparently been a big kite festival a few days before we arrived. There were hundreds of kites flopping around in all kids of trees and in the massive tangle of power lines snaking every which way through the city.

After having a look at the little store I walked back to outside the textile shop. It was on a corner of alleyways (really considered roads here). Down the side direction was a local boy, clean and well dressed, trying to fly a kite. He had difficulty getting it higher than about 5-6m though due to the narrowness of the buildings, trees and power lines encroaching his makeshift playground on both sides. I was vocally cheering on with oohs & aghs as it went higher or lower. After a few minutes I was playfully shouting at him and waving wildly to get it away from the power lines. After a few futile minutes of deft maneuvering he lost the battle and it was tangled. I knew I couldn’t buy a kite for Alex and Luke (no matter how cheap they were) but I jumped at the opportunity to run back to the store and pick one out for this other boy. I picked out a nice purple one, but clearly my kite pre-purchase analysis skills are utter crap. So I proudly took this new pristine purchase back to the boy and gave it to him. He readily accepted, and began poking small holes in it to attached the string line. I held it up while he ran the string out about 10m for its maiden flight and on the count of three I tossed it straight up while he pulled the string to birth this majestic paper into the wild blue yonder. We were as a well oiled machine, but the kite did not participate in our desire to have it soar with the pigeons. (No eagles here, but thousands of nuisance birds.) The purple pig-headed kite took a quick U-turn at 3m and nosedived straight into our car. Balgit, (our driver) was chuckling at our earnest yet failed attempt. I avoided all further contact and possible jinxing of the kite after that. The boy tried again a few times on his own with his tried and tested techniques. After a mere six attempts the nose was tattered and the bent bamboo was splintering too much and loosing the flexing elasticity needed to maintain a taunt flying surface. Disgusted with myself I pulled another five rupee bill (thirteen cents) from my pocket. I stomped on the kite before the boy could pick it up again, gave him the money and pointed him down the alley to pick out his own with hopefully better results.

Alex and Luke came out to see what was happening sometime around here, and watched the boy bring back the new and improved spoils. He came back with a plastic one that I hadn’t even seen in the store. It was recycled bag plastic and was the same price as the tissue paper ones apparently. I still chose to have nothing to do with this new launch though, just in case… It was flying with 30m of string out in no time! I then went back inside for a moment to check on Claudette. When I returned outside the kite was so incredibly high up that it was barely visible. The immense smile on this boys face was prominent for anyone to see though. He gave Luke the reigns for a bit too which was pretty cool. I came in second in a kite flying contest when I was about eleven or so. It was open to all ages, and first place went to some early 20’s guy who made a 3m square behemoth (sp?) that didn’t even fly. I used my plastic drugstore $2 special and kicked butt against all of the 30 or so other entrants. I should have remembered the lessons of flying with plastic, but I guess I’m old and it had slipped my mind. I tried telling the boy that I’d won this contest when younger, but I think the significance was lost on him. I won a $50 voucher for the toy store in Bonnie Doon mall that had sponsored it by the way. That was 1978ish and huge money for a kid in a toy store! It was also significant since my Grandpa James was in Edmonton visiting and got to see me do very well along with my Dad. K, sorry… enough childhood reminiscing.

Along the same kite story lines we enjoyed our un-guided fort visit yesterday afternoon. This one was at the high hill directly adjacent to the new Jaipur city. We climbed the stairs to the roof and had a spectacular view of the city. Being Saturday, there were lots of kites flying way below us. We were quite a ways up, and the hill was very steep, so buildings of the city were just below us, and not too far (50-60m) laterally. As we looked further off in the distant horizon we could actually see several kites at our level. These were actually the tissue paper kind and obviously of superior construction to the one I had previously bought. Then, I’m not sure why but I turned my eyes even higher and spotted a few more kites flying a ways above even our heads! The ones even with us must have been bare specs in the sky to the kids on the ground. The higher ones though must have been completely invisible! They could probably only feel tugs on the strings as the wind carried it too and fro well beyond their eyesight. The fort we were at was about 220m to 250m elevation above the city. This means that those kids had probably a whole roll of 1000′ of string spooled out! Oh what a life…

India AFTER the Taj

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Wow, what a beautiful and yet filthy country so far (in the North). Dirty does not quite do it justice. Filthy barely addresses the litter, sand and feces strewn about the countryside and everywhere in the cities. The sights and people are beautiful though. Well, except for the hawkers, taxi drivers & beggars I guess. Actually, the beggars are far fewer than I had expected or been told about for India. From other blogs or speaking with fellow travelers I expected to be almost constantly marauded. At many busy intersections there are two or three beggars, holding their fingers closed and motioning towards their mouth. They are mostly kids, with some women (always holding a baby) and only one man begging that I’ve seen so far. Luke hasn’t been quite as outwardly affected by the kids begging as Claudette and I expected. The sandy, refuse littered areas (roads, cities and countryside) remind me quite a bit of Goa haven, in Western Nunavut.

We drove on from Agra to Jaipur, a city of about 2.5 million. It is the first ever “planned” and structured city in India. So being laid out in rectangular blocks make life and navigation fairly easy. Unfortunately, the city has long outlived the 40,000 population designed size, and the majestic but narrow seven gates into the “old” city are major traffic choke points. Lots of forts and palaces though! We are pretty much palace’d out I think. The views, the work and the grandeur; they’re all amazing. But there’s just so much to see. We’ve heard the same about old churches and stuff in Europe… they apparently just start to blend together in their looks and historical significance after awhile, (sadly). Tonight we went to a revolving restaurant in Jaipur. It was only ten stories high, but the view was still far reaching because all of the city is typically only three and four story walk-up buildings until you get about 10km out from the relative core where we are. There were a bunch of fireworks being shot tonight which was pretty cool to see from up there too. Sadly, the place turned out not to serve wine. Then (even worse!) when we got the menu’s there wasn’t any meat dishes to be seen. After checking the front of the menu Claudette noticed the “(Veg)” written in small text… I politely asked if we could leave and find somewhere else. The look on my wife’s face said that that was apparently not a possible plan of action. She then ridiculed me further by insisting that surely I find something on the vast menu that was good. And surely I could eat one night without meat. I ended up having mushroom soup (it was OK) and rice, with a little bit of the kids cheese noodles. Yipee… At least we shared a couple of banana splits at the end which made it ever so slightly bearable. Still though, the total bill was $50!!!! For a full non-meat meal in India, I’d say we got taken.

Along this drive we have made a few (non-electronic) purchases as well. Some beautiful table covers & napkin sets, and a fine silk padded bed duvet for a crazy price of $90. These stores all start off saying that there’s no pressure and they serve pop & teas, but when you try and get out of there without buying 20-30 minutes later, the guide directed stores pour on the pressure like crazy. The driver directed stores however have always been nice, genuine, and have the best prices, (by far!).

We’ve also met up with some other Canadians along the route. We saw another Toyota wagon that passed us on the road. On the roof were the same MEC bags we have. I made a sign on a sheet of paper (photo to show up in the picture gallery soon) and had our driver go up beside them when there was no oncoming traffic. They got a chuckle and we both pulled over to chat for a few minutes. They are traveling off and on for a year with four (4!) kids from grades 5-10. We met up again briefly in Jaipur, but got cut short again there. It was a shame. It would have been nice to swap some experiences and advice on traveling. The next evening at our hotel was a single Canadian lady we spent the evening with though. We were doing some areas in reverse and were able to give each other great advice on our future places to visit. Both have blog links that I added to our blogroll list on the left.

We are heading back to Delhi a day early (tomorrow) and skipping a town further South that we were going to see due to a general strike that’s supposed to hit this state on Monday. The state and the federal government are bickering about highways and funding (or control of roads something). The state has organized a blockade of all highways and the police will not interfere, (there is no federal police force like the RCMP). Our driver is very worried and says that any cars on the road will be stopped, people pulled out and the vehicle destroyed by a beating and then burning. Nice, eh… The blockade will show the feds that the state has the real control over when the roads will work. All in all, I have found India to be the most fascist, oppressive country we have visited thus far. Way more so (outwardly, in tourist noticeable ways) than in China even! Clearly India has a thinly disguised democracy that really isn’t. A few quick examples are showing (and having photocopied or scanned) our passport info (or local ID for Indian tourists) for everything from major purchases (over $50), using internet or even just to use a computer, and to stay at any hotel. All four of our passports have to have all sorts of info written down on three different forms at each hotel. This info includes the passport number, issue place, DOB, date of issue & expiry, our individual Visa numbers within the passport, when we arrived in India, when we are leaving India, what town or city we just arrived from, and what town or city we are going to next. Simply crazy…

Rick’s Agra (city with Taj) Description

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

The night before, we went to see the “Red Fort” in Agra, (or Agra Fort as it is now called so as not to be confused with the “Red Fort” in Delhi). It was even larger and more spectacular than the Delhi one, with more areas open to the public. It was the main residence and ruling location for the King who built the Taj as a mausoleum for his favorite wife. This one had an “S” curve, three gated, upwards sloping entrance, which apparently had made attacks nearly impossible. The seventy foot walls probably helped with the “impenetrable” reputation it had as well. Just across a very wide (and currently dry) riverbed the Taj Mahal stood, even more majestic than all the pictures I had previously seen.

We had many early mornings in China, but still found it difficult rolling Luke out of bed (not to mention ourselves of course!) early enough to see sunrise at the Taj Mahal. We arrived a little after the sun had lit up the sky, but a half hour before it crested the buildings on the horizon. Quite a few tourists were crowded just inside the main gate getting early morning light pictures of the Taj Mahal in the reflection pool. This was a few hundred meters away from the actual Taj. It looked fairly close, but then we could see the little tiny people up on the base of the Taj who were incredibly small. That helped put the scale of the building into much better perspective. There were lots of “staff” (or so they said they were) around who were only too helpful in grabbing people and (almost forcibly) guiding them to various specific spots to get all types of “perfect” pictures of the Taj. A couple at different spots of the reflective pool, and a few to gain all manners of artistic perspectives of beautiful pictures.As soon as several outstanding shots were gained, the staff member would maintain a perfect smile while semi-demanding a tip. I only paid the first guy about $3 of the $6 he was asking and then kept only small bills (equivalent to about eighteen and thirty-five cents) in my shirt pocket for any future scoundrels. Any that greeted me after that first one were initially thanked by me and then warned very sternly that I was out of money! They would then only show one good spot, still ask for a small tip, and then wander off to find more lucrative tourists.

Our guide was supposed to be provided, and while our driver (for the eight day circular tour out of Delhi to Agra and Jaipur) is great, the guides have been very poor so far. Just before leaving the hotel for the Red Fort, our guide changed. He knew very little about the fort and a pushy photographer was obviously (in Hindi) feeding him bits of info. This was after telling the “professional photographer” (as he kept on referring to himself as, it reminded me of Denzel’s experience in Man On Fire) many, many times that we didn’t want his amazing, photoshopped pics of us around the fort.

On the left side was a fairly large Muslim Mosque and on the right was a similar sized guest house house. Both of these were about three quarters of the height of the Taj, with about the same footprint as the Taj, (excluding the large 3m high plaza base all around the actual building that is). The two side buildings were a red stone, but with very similar exquisite craftsmanship in the hand carving and sculpting of the stone. All decorations in the three buildings were made purely from inlay of other types of stone, or precious and semi-precious jewels. Inlay means that the grooves are carved out of the larger marble and then precisely the same sized pieces of other stones & jewels are laid in to the grooves with a heated glue (from a top secret formula of course). The building(s) was (were all) spectacular by sheer size and logistics of moving such a massive amount of large pices of marble from a different area of the country a few hundred kilometers away. The artistry of all of the inlays, and piecing the marble (almost seamlessly) together however is just totally amazing! Along with the flowers, and general patterns were scribed text (in who knows what language?, arebic presumably) from the Koran.

We later went to a marble inlay factory and showroom, which had tonnes and tonnes of amazing pieces. There were tables which they insisted could withstand and pop spills or any winter temperatures that we could throw at it. The size was irrelevant to the price, everything was based on the quantity and difficulty of the inlay work. He showed me a small (football) sized elephant with to most exquisite and delicate inlay work all over the body. He said it took his master craftsman eleven months to make and was selling it for about $15,000, (and well worth it for the beauty and craftsmanship that went into it). This place also had inlaid designs on marble wine goblets which would have made an excellent addition to the Gauthier collection, but $300 was just a wee bit out of our reach (we still Love you guys though!). They also had some small (and not too heavy earrings that would have been nice to get for a friend in Smith who paid me some cash to buy his wife odd $5-$20 earrings from around the world on our travels. These ones were $85 though, but were probably the most unique ones I’d seen so far.

INDIA In Action

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Today we were touring all after noon ( SO TIRING huh ) We visited the red fort, we took some pics of monkey’s. we actually spent most of are time at the red fort touring around the grounds we also saw some parliament buildings they were very boring except for one building with real gold for a roof top ( Alex actually pointed it out. ) We went to a lotus temple second (the parliament buildings were third.) We bought lunch and a elastic helicopter at the lotus temple

Today we went to the TAJ MAHAL we had a little trouble with are guide. our driver handed us to a guide That guide took us down a path to a gate then handed us to another guide and said, here is your guide THAT guide took us to another gate (if you looked through you could see the Taj Mahal) and left us when we asked him to come through he said, I can’t I don’ have the right papers to guide you. SO we ended up guiding are selves we got into the chamber (finally) and looked at The fake tombs I bet your wondering if I said that right YES fake tombs to make along story short (Alex did the long story) there are two tombs one is real one is fake The real one is under ground the fake one you can look at BUT not take pictures of. There are stairs going down at the entrance (there ARE blocked off). We also took a look at the reflective pool (it showed the reflection of the Taj Mahal.) It was rather disappointing we did not get to see it turn pink at sunrise P.S On the trip I have been counting dogs the entire trip number is 572 not including India the number for India is 427 ( that is in 5 days) the old record was Australia with 217.

Today we went on a tour to see tigers. We did not see any though (no one has seen one for months ) on the other hand we saw lots of deer we saw some deer the size of a caribou the men looked like they were caribou with there huge antler’s we also saw spotted deer they looked very much like bambi with the skinny legs . We also saw some Indian Gazelle there were only two one mother and one baby. At the start of the tour the guide asked me if I could come with him to get the tickets it turned out he wanted me to draw the route number out of the bag. He said that was a good route to take. In the end I thought he said that to make me feel good. P.S we are half way into the trip!!

My choice (finally) is the BETSEST!

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

The Taj Mahal is beautiful BEYOND words! I would feel kinda bad just saying it was “beautiful”, or “cool”, or even “breath taking”. It is simply beyond words! (it is also pretty much beyond exclamation points!)! I am just the slightest bit disappointed because we didn’t get to see it go pink. I guess it has to be a certain time of year or something. They made you wear these little cover things over our footwear so they don’t have to clean the marble. It was looked after VERY well! They have lots of precautions and rules to keep it in good order. For example you are not allowed to bring food, gum or candy in, or bags (so they don’t have to search it). You are allowed only to bring in cameras and water (and clothes of course). Then, once you get past an outside gate you have to pay for use of a video camera. Then, once you get inside the main Taj Mahal gate you aren’t allowed to take video anymore. Only still pictures. The people didn’t know (and probably wouldn’t let us explain) that dads camera takes pictures and video, and that we wouldn’t take video. They thought my camera could only take pictures (and we didn’t explain that it can do videos and we took several. We were then even).

Then, once you went to go inside the fake tomb room (I’ll explain in a moment) you had to put all cameras away. There are two chambers, an upper chamber and a lower chamber. The bodies are actually in the lower chamber but you aren’t allowed to go there. In the upper chamber there are two fake caskets.

Now to start describing it. From any pictures you see, you’ll think it is a building with a dome on top and two towers on each side. But it is actually the building with a dome on top then a square raised platform surrounding it and a pillar on each corner. It is a BEAUTIFULLY carved Indian Marble. It is actually harder than Italian marble, ect (we kept on getting told this). And once you get on the outside of it near the entrance, there is lots of semi-precious stones inlaid into the Taj Mahal. It was designs of flowers and there were just so pretty! There were also carved flowers right below it. It went all the way around the building. Once you got inside (surprisingly there was no long line and you actually had room for your elbows!). There was a first little room (again with the inlaid flowers) which in the middle had the stairs to get down to the real caskets. This opening in the floor had a little fence to keep people away and a metal grate that was locked up with a padlock for even more security measures (because lots of people here ignore the ropes and the fences we often saw).

Then you would walk into the second room where the fake caskets were. It has another grate like wall (except carved of marble and going vertically instead of horizontally in the floor) which had a kind of doorway so you could see the “pretend” caskets (and of course surrounding that was a rope fence.). Around the room on the outside walls were again beautifully carved white marble window openings. I think there was 3 kinda “layers” (shall we say) of walls with windows. The first layer had glass, but the second and third did not (have glass). The ceiling was very high and it had clever grooves carved into it so you couldn’t tell which part was the groove or the part that was sticking out!. The entire thing was just stunning!

Surrounding the Taj Mahal (about 200 meters away and outside the main gate) were the places where the laborers slept. Now time for a little history about it. The Taj Mahal was a dedication (from a king) for his second wife who died while giving birth to their 14th child. He wanted to also build a black Taj Mahal (an exact copy of the white one, but for himself). The Maharajah’s son didn’t want him to build one, so he imprisoned his father. The son thought it was a further waste of money, and didn’t want anything to foreshadow the mausoleum built for his mother. The black Taj Mahal never got built. When his father died (I think he was still imprisoned), he got put in the Taj Mahal with his second wife, (in a slightly larger more ornate casket). There was no big ceremony or anything. He was simply placed beside his favorite wife in there and then everyone left. Very sad.

I forgot, once the Taj Mahal was finished, the Maharajah had the hands of the master carvers who worked on the Taj Mahal cut off. This would ensure that never again could they create something as beautiful. That’s all (sadly) about the Taj Mahal.

Also today we went to look at some shops where they have semi-precious (or colored) stone inlaid into white marble, (from the same quarries as the Taj). First we went to the guide’s place, and didn’t buy anything. Then we went to the driver’s place and bought about 200 dollars (Canadian) worth of stuff. (I’ll explain why we went to the driver and guides place in a sec.) We bought a plate for our kitchen wall rack (with the Taj Mahal on it of course). I bought a VEERRRY pretty pendant. It is a heart with some colored inlaid stones which makes a flower. It only cost about 20 dollars Canadian. The tourist business is cut throat here! We had to go to both places because, if we buy something, whomevers place it is they get a commission when we buy something. The driver was polite about it, but the guide wasn’t! He took us to his inlaid place then, when we didn’t buy anything and we got back in the car, he said “ I want to take you to a place, it has star of India”. We just said we wanted to eat, then we were gonna go to the next town with our driver (the guide was only for Agra). The guide kinda got mad and us and starting insisting that “no you will like, I want to show you star of India”. We just kept on refusing and you could barely tell, but he was a bit angry. We later found out from driver that when you don’t buy an inlaid thing, they’ll take you to a jewelry shop, then a fabric shop and on and on. There are desperate for that commission. I liked how our driver actually asked us if we wanted to go. He told us before that they get commission and if we don’t want to go then tell him. We did tell the guide before we left that we didn’t want to go, but when we came out of the Taj Mahal we forgot and he noticed and took us there anyways. The drivers do what the guide says though, because they want to stay friends. Also everyone wants a tip! A guys tell us how to get good pictures and what to do then after he says he wants tip. Oh yeah I forgot our guide was also very bad! Yesterday he took us to the red fort but he rushed us through everything! Then today he showed us the right way down to the Taj Mahal, walked us down this road where cars can’t go, then handed us off to another guide. Then once we got to the second gate to get in, the second guide pointed us in the right direction and said goodbye. Turns out he isn’t an officail guide so he can’t go in (or get caught inside) with tourists. He only walked us about 100 meters and told us “that is where some of the laborers stayed”. Then guess what he did? He asked for a tip. Then, also near the gate there were 2 cows who had a huge rotary blade style lawn mower that pulled behind them. We took a couple pictures while they were on a break) and the owners posed with the cows. Then once we were gonna leave they asked for a tip! I didn’t have to pay but I still got a headache!

It was funny because when we were just about to leave Luke had to go to the washroom, but he forgot to get toilet paper and when Dad went in to check on him, they remembered mum didn’t have her purse. So dad pulled out and suggested using a 10 rupee bill (not even thirty cents Canadian). Luke, who seems to care more about the money than himself said “I can’t use money!!!!!!!!!” We could just barely hear him from outside the bathroom! In the end they found the attendant who was selling toilet paper. Ironically it cost 10 rupees! S’all for now miss everyone!
Alex
PS Taj Mahal is AWESOME!!!!!!

Mind your own business (class)

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Today we went on a business class flight (finally). We had big comfy chairs and me and Alex got Harry Potter 4 sticker books (yeah) Harry potter 4 is also the book I am reading. Best of all the stewardesses were doting on you, (hee hee doting is a funny word). We also watched some movies and Spongebob episodes; Dumped, and survival of the idiots. For Dora, I watched the lost city episode. Last but not least, I watched 2 Rugrats episodes; the BBQ and waiter, there’s a baby in my soup. I enjoyed it a LOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Incredable India! (cont)

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Today we did a little half day o touring. We saw the Red fort, the lotus temple and some parlamint buildings. We spent most of our time at the red fort though. It was very cautious. They did the uuh thing were they feel alover your body to make sure you you don’t have a bomb or something. It’s my first time, and hopefully last! There were two seperate lines for boys and girls. All the boys were sniggering as the girls went through. It was veeerrrry embarressing! The lotus temple was absolutly breathtaking. We went by a few parlamint buildings but they were all boring except for one which had REAL gold on the roof.
S’all for now, miss you guys!!!!Alex

New 2008 Picture Gallery!

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

With over 600 quality photographs in our original travel web gallery, we decided to start a new one for 2008 pictures. Unfortunately though, I haven’t had a chance yet to update our main http://www,jamesworld.ca index page, so there is no link to the new gallery from there. Hopefully I can get to fixing that in the next two weeks. In the meantime, the direct link can be accessed from the blogroll on the lower left portion of any blog page. Or you can memorize the link:

http://pics2008.jamesworld.ca

I also added a (slightly longwinded) description of some aspects to consider when planning a similar RTW trip accessible from the upper left corner of the blog pages, (just below “The Adventrures Of Pete”).

Incredable India!

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

We are now officailly in India! We actually only got here last night and we’ve only taken a little walk just this morning, but, we are here! We are in the budget end of town so we don’t really know what to compare but so far I like where we are! Traffic is crazy though!!! All you can hear is honking horns! Worst of all traffic is bad pretty much 24 hours! I think our taxi driver said something about big trucks only being allowed to go on the roads at night. That reduces traffic a bit. But it is still very crazy. I’m VERY excited because we are nearing my destination choice, The TAj Mahal. NOw that I have my own camera we will have triple the pictures!!! S’all for now!!
Alex