Poor Timing in Jharkhand

Last post I promised a second story about being popular in India. Alas, this one isn’t quite as lol-worthy, and involves no stealth erotica photography. This instance I’m recounting as a reminder that timing doesn’t always work with us in life, and travel is sure as shit no exception to that rule.

As mentioned back in this post, I wiped out on my bike in Daltonganj. It wasn’t a terrible accident, just tiring, embarrassing and inconveniently timed. After I’d bandaged my shoulder and reclaimed my bruised pride back from the mildly bloodied dust I’d dropped it in, Pete and I rode into town to find some fruit to get our energy up for the ride ahead.

I was in a terrible mood. Beyond being sick and injured I was worried about how much longer I was going to be able to keep this up for. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was even vaguely frightened of the possibility of actually shitting myself to death (not a terribly dignified death, that), or of losing consciousness on my bike and having a much more severe accident than a slow tumble into the dust (slightly more bad-ass but still not exactly desired outcome #1, if you know what I mean).

Which made it very difficult to muster up smiles for the crowd that was gathering around me as I sipped at my juice. Continue reading

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The Novelty of a White Chick in a Tiger-less Tiger Reserve

I can see FOREVER.

The GPS was being a cock again. During the past 2 and a half months, our ‘Map my India’ navigational system had displayed some fairly prize moments of creative route creation (attempting to convince us a railroad was a highway and leading us through twisting alleys to the dead-end of someone’s cow-and-trash-inhabited backyard spring to mind) but we had by then caught on to its wily tricks. This particular day it was trying to convince us that Betla National Park was 450 km away. . .when it should have been 21.

It was for some reason suggesting that, as opposed to making a perfectly legal U-turn, we should instead go 300 km out of our way to change direction, drive PAST the place to which we were trying to get, then enter from the opposite side. When Pete and I defiantly ignored the route and made the turn off through a set of arches towards Betla, the GPS begrudgingly changed its ‘distance to destination’ reading from 441 km to 12, as though muttering, “. . .oh, yeah, OR you could go that way. You know, whatever. My way was real scenic and stuff is all. . . “ Continue reading

A Vagabond’s Guide to Driving in India:

The short version of this guide is simply, ‘don’t’. But, for those of you not dissuaded by cautionary warnings and sound, informed advice for maintaining your personal safety/sanity, below are some helpful tips I learned from my time on Indian roads.

Firstly, I should point out that I am no expert; not on Indian traffic laws and certainly not on motorcycles. I earned my license the summer prior to leaving for India and had, in total, approximately 4 months of riding experience behind me, gleaned from well paved roads in a quiet corner of Atlantic Canada. My 1984 Honda Magna (aka ‘Michael‘) had been just temperamental enough that I was familiar with stalling in public, how to get a bike going off a rolling start, and what it felt like to find out your ‘fuel low’ light doesn’t work by running out of gas 30 km shy of the middle of nowhere.

My advice will be (as all advice is, really) specific to my experience, which was riding a 2010 Royal Enfield Bullet Electra (aka ‘Hrithik’), over the course of 2 1/2 months, from the Northern town of Uttarkashi to the Eastern hill station of Darjeeling. I’ll get some actual, practical advice up on things like ‘buying a bike in India’ and ‘repairs along the road’ later as a part of a larger Indian resource post. . . .but, for now, one dozen general pointers for touring India by bike: Continue reading

Wandering the Ghats of Varanasi III (of III)

Backdated from March 29 – April 03

Lassis are an Indian staple. They’re a drink made by blending yogurt with water, and can be served sweet or savory, mixed with sugar, spices or fruit. The best ones will be mixed with a bit of milk, and topped with a thin layer of clotted cream. And the best I’ve had in all of India are to be found in Varanasi, at the Blue Lassi in Kachauri Gali.

The Blue Lassi – best in all of India

One of the Blue Lassi’s few workers setting up for the day. As the shop is a 3rd generation family business, you’re likely to see the same faces milling around each day you drop by.

Here the drinks are piled high with fresh fruits, shaved coconut, coffee or cocoa powder, or combinations of all the above (Because we are living IN THE FUTURE, you can even pop over to youtube to watch a lassi being made here). A personal favorite of mine was the chocolate banana. For the adventurous, ‘special’ (wink wink) lassis are also available. Perhaps don’t ask for them too loudly, though.

This particular evening I went with a chocolate blackberry (which turned out to actually be dark grapes), while Pete chose chocolate banana coconut. Our bellies filled with yogurty goodness, we made our way down to the river to hire a boat. On the night’s agenda was to watch the Ganga Aarti ceremony at Dasaswamedh Ghat. Continue reading

Wandering the Ghats of Varanasi II (of III)

Backdated from March 29 – April 03

One day isn’t nearly enough to take in all of the myriad sights and sounds of Varanasi’s ghats. So I decide to take another.

When I reach the pyres of Manikarnika this time I instead bank left. My Lonely Planet map tells me there isn’t much to see North of the main burning ghat but I decide to test the truth of that claim for myself.

It’s certainly less bustling up this end, and I don’t run into any other tourists walking along the stairs. But there’s still a pretty rich collection of sights along the upper ghats and the walk towards the Northern bridge is far from dull.

Well, that’s just poor planning.

I walk past a man helping his friend to fold freshly laundered bedsheets, a pair of blue undies wrapped around his head like some bizarre, miniature turban. Laundry in the Ganges has been a constant source of wonder to me since arriving in Varanasi; I fail to understand how you can, in a river teeming with trash, waste and ash, somehow manage to get your clothes to become cleaner. And yet, from North to South, the area lining the Ganges is filled with sheets and saris drying on the ghat steps, or hanging to blow in the wind, their vibrant colors somehow magically unspoiled by the surrounding dust, dirt and floating river debris. Continue reading

Wandering the Ghats of Varanasi

Backdated from March 29 – April 03

Varanasi’s a great city to get lost in. Which is a good thing since, given the twisting labyrinth of narrow lane-ways that pass for streets in the blocks leading down to the Ganges, you’re bound to spend a lot of your time doing just that. Whether intentionally or no.

Inside the narrow, twisting alleys of Varanasi.

Actually, getting lost in the lane-ways was the very first thing we did upon arrival in this ancient city. After getting one of the bikes unstuck after a failed attempt at a U-turn (not recommended) we pulled them to the side of the ‘road’ as much as was possible so Pete could head off with a helpful local to locate our hostel. In the meantime, I attracted the usual number of odd looks being a woman riding an Enfield typically yields. Children find me fascinating. Women find me hilarious.

Much later, as I spotted Pete walking back up the dusty alley towards me, I had a moment. For a short instant I felt oddly displaced; the diverse bustle of people still exotic to me, the unfamiliar scents of unknown spices and something about the way the rare sunbeam filtered down to illuminate the scene brought to mind a scene out of a film shot in some far-off location. I began thinking about what I’d learned of Buddhism, particularly about objects not actually being anything static, but becoming whatever impressions we attach to them. In that moment, that scene had the flavor of travel and adventure as we view it in movies – something we walk through as opposed to become a part of. Continue reading

Murder Mysteries and Ancient Sexy Time

Backdated from March 24 − 29

Given that my last post somewhat slagged the backpacker tendency to tour ‘the sites, I’m forced to acknowledge the irony of admitting this: I really enjoyed the palaces and temples of Orchha and Khajuraho.

The decision to hit Orchha was a last minute one; upon hearing that we needed a via point to stop in on our way from Agra to Khajuraho, a man working at our hotel suggested Orchha. Said it was a nice town with a very impressive palace and, buddy, he was not telling lies.

In the courtyard of Orchha’s Jahangir Mahal.

Lacking any real knowledge of the origins of these places, they tend not to sway me with the weight of their history. I can, however, appreciate stunning architecture, and Orchha’s palace fort had that in spades. As an added bonus, being a little out of the way for most, Pete and I largely had the area to ourselves, particularly when we went wandering the grounds outside the palace walls. Providing background to it all, a single man sang from a small temple below, not bothering to move the microphone away from his mouth whenever he felt a cough coming on.

We also took one of the bikes for a run out to the local ‘nature reserve’ which was decidedly short on inhabitants. A sign at the entrance warned to be wary about swimming in any of the lakes as there were ‘crocodils’ and we may ‘become feed’ to them. We didn’t see any crocodils, but we DID find the scattered contents of someone’s pockets lain out across a stone near the edge of a lake – credit cards, driver’s license, several rupee notes and a busted phone.

Well, this doesn’t look sketchy at all.

Continue reading

The ‘Sites’

Backdated from March 21/22.

Apparently, no visit to India is complete without a stop at the country’s sweetheart site, the Taj Mahal. I honestly might have given it a miss regardless, but Agra was a natural stop along the route from Jaipur to Khajuraho. First, though, we had a quick detour to the middle of nowhere to visit the Chand Baori stepwell.

I’d never have known Chand Baori existed if not for Pete. Lonely Planet doesn’t acknowledge its existence and Abhaneri, the town in which it lies, isn’t exactly a hub of tourism. I’m not sure if the place even has accommodation of which tourists can avail. But one of the advantages to traveling by bike is that you can make detours, bus routes be damned, to check the little ‘off the path’ places like this.

Pete was aware of the site as it was one of the shooting locations for ‘The Fall’ (you’ll see a shot of the stepwell scene at 01:49) – a movie of which he’s a big fan. A little short on plot but undeniably stunning in its visuals, the film’s scenes were shot on location in a variety of sites around the globe, and Pete had made it a side note of his RTW trip to try and visit as many of them as possible.

We parked the bikes in front of a small shop just across from the stepwell and hired a guide; partially to tell us the story of the site, but more to purchase some good faith from the locals so our bikes, still loaded down with our baggage, would remain untouched while we were away from them. Continue reading

Cutting bait

I can, at times, be a slow learner, particularly when the lesson life is trying to drill into my head goes against any plans I’ve laid out for myself. But 4 seems to be the magic number.

Siliguri marked the fourth time that whatever is savaging my innards landed me in a hospital. And this particular hospital stay came at the end of an agonizing 10 hour train ride during which I’m fairly certain the Indians sitting across from us were curious as to why I was writhing on my bunk like a woman about to give birth, possibly to some parasitic, alien life-form.
The saline was slower acting this time and new symptoms had joined forces with the usual culprits of severe cramping, vomit, diarrhea, weakness and fatigue. . .I was running a fever that had me convinced the room was 50 degrees one minute and −10 the next. That led to shivering which bordered on convulsions, which in turn caused a rather severe migraine.
Which, in turn, led to the very difficult decision to cut bait, and leave India.

Hence the even-longer-then-usual gap between posts. Once the most recent bout of my body turning against me waned enough to move on again there was still the issue of making arrangements with my insurance provider, selling the bikes (I’ll always love you, Hrithik), arranging flights. . . .not to mention the physical process of actually getting back to Canada; a process that took a couple days in and of itself.
I’m writing now from a friend’s couch in Sydney, NS – a town I didn’t expect to see for another 2 years or so. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Continue reading

Tough luck and hard decisions

It’s an unfortunate truth of the universe that getting frustrated by something, even deeply, passionately, violently so, will not make it simply go away. Particularly when the thing frustrating you is inside your GI tract.

I was hoping the last bout of trouble would be the last. I seemed to regain my strength in Varanasi and, as I walked along the colourful ghats of that holy city, I found myself refilling with a sense of optimism for my travels to come. It hadn’t taken long to catch up on the organization of the photosets I’d fallen behind on while ill, and my journal and computer were filled with notes with which to write my next several blog posts. Furthermore, I was excited to move off the tourist circuit to the lesser travelled state of Jharkhand, and it’s national park, Betla. I’d allowed myself to get more down than I should have for something as unavoidable as intestinal illness, and it had been painting a shadow over my ability to enjoy my time in India. But now, with the sun shining down on me and the open road ahead, everything seemed rich and vibrant and promising once more. ‘Don’t let the bacillary dysentery grind you down’ and such.

And some exciting opportunities were springing up. A Couchsurfer I’d met in Jaipur had invited me on a May trek to Gangotri I was incredibly keen to do, as well as an even more exciting trip – to Ladakh via the Manali-Leh road. It promised to be a beautiful, if challenging, ride, and I’d started sending out feelers to find a riding buddy as Pete was unlikely to still be in India come August. I’d also begun inquiring about farm-stays in Nepal, both to experience a bit of that culture and to stretch out my finances while I waited for the Ladakh pass to open.

In the meantime, I was sitting atop a jeep as it tumbled down the dirt road of Palamau, keeping my eyes out for the unlikely possibility of a tiger spotting. Continue reading