Journey to the Unknown Route Map

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Total Expenses for India

So the total I spent in India was $920.60, which was more than I was budgeting but mostly went to traveling expenses ($539.26 for taxis, rickshaws, hired drivers and trains) and the biggest expenses being the Hotel in Mumbai.  It is funny I spent more for the hotel room in Mumbai than the rest of the hotels combined. I averaged $8.08 per night for hotel rooms.  Also, I only spent $57.35 on food for an average of $3.82 a day.  The things that were expensive were the sites ($15 for the Taj Mahal) totaling $146.32 and a couple of things that I probably should not have spent money on or spent too much on.  This does not include the one-way ticket to Mumbai $535.00.

Day 15 Vaishali to Kushinagar to Nepal Border to Lumbini

I’m in Nepal a lot sooner than I thought and I am glad to be out of India.  My first observations are that the people seem a lot nicer (honest), there doesn’t seem to be as many people or craziness on the streets and their car horns are a lot more pleasant.  The only bad thing so far is the power goes out a couple times every hour, but the place I am staying has a generator and back-up lights.

So today was a long day. Woke up at 6:00 because we were supposed to leave at 6:30, but didn’t leave until 7:00.  Then we visited some of the sites in Vaishali.  Vaishali is the place that women were accepted as nuns.

After visiting a couple of sites we drove the 200 plus kms to Kushinagar. On the way we stopped for some breakfast and had some fish, chicken and rice.  It was very good, but I was afraid to eat too much because I wasn’t sure about the cleanliness of the place.  So far, so good.  I would hate to get sick on my last day in India.  Anyway, it took us about 6 hours to reach Kushinagar, the place where Buddha died and was cremated and one of the four sacred Buddha cities.

After visiting the sites we took off for the Nepal border.  It took about 3.5 hours to reach the border.  There was some amazing scenery that we drove through today passing small villages, forests, lakes and I saw lots of elephants, monkeys and birds not to mention all the pigs, cows, goats, ducks, horses and chickens.

Crossing the border was a breeze.  I just had to fill-out some paperwork and get my stamps exchange some money and into Nepal I went.  Once walking into Nepal I got a taxi to take me to an ATM and then onto Lumbini, the place where Buddha was born and the final of the four sacred Buddha cities.  It is supposed to be dangerous to drive at night in Nepal and I can see why with all the bicycles, that you can’t see because it is so dark, big trucks and small roads.

The place I am staying at is nice and the manager seems to be a real nice guy.  There are no buses to Pokhara so I decided to take a flight from Lumbini to Kathamandu.  The manager said that it is a great way to see some great scenery and it isn’t that expensive and only take 30 minutes compared to the 10 hour bus ride, which can be a lot longer if there is a strike which happens quite often here.  So I will be in Kathmandu by the 27th.

Tomorrow I will explore Lumbini, I haven’t decided if I will rent a bike or not.  I haven’t ridden a bike in forever.

Day 14 - Rajgir, Nalanda to Vaishali

I was picked up today a little before 8:00 am.  It took about 2 hours to go the 70kms from Bodhgaya to Rajgir.  I was not expecting to walk up to the temple on the top of this huge hill, but the chair lift wasn’t working.  I’m not sure how far up it is, but it is a long way and very steep.  It was worth the climb though.  Next to the stupa is a temple and a monk was banging a drum.  It was a great place to meditate.

After the climb up to the stupa we visited the Pippala caves, where the first Buddhist council was held.

We also visited the Lakshminarayan Temple complex that has some hot springs.  Lots of people were taking a bath and a guy had me say a prayer as he poured water from the springs onto my hand.

We then drove about half an hour to Nalanda, which is where there was a large Buddhist monastic university that had some very large libraries and was the most revered universities in ancient India.  It must have been something in its time.

After Nalanda we drove the 146kms that took around 3 hours to Vaishali, where I’m staying at a not such a bad place, although there are huge spiders on the ceiling.

Day 13 Bodhgaya

I woke up early and got to the temple grounds around 6:00 am.  Bodhgaya is also one the four most sacred Buddhist cities because it is here where Siddhartha Gautama found enlightenment, reaching Nirvana and became the Buddha.  As I was walking around I met some young Indian Buddhists.  They showed me around the temple.  I hope they were legit and not scamming me, but the one kid knew his stuff and seemed like a good soul.

After the temple, I met another kid on the way to pick up my bag from one hotel to bring to the other (tonight’s room has a shared bathroom, the first time for that experience).  Anyway, this kid said he was studying and this and that and said he had a friend who could take us on a Rickshaw to the caves and couple other places.  I said okay.  It was worth the trip just to see the villages (grass and mud houses), but the cave was very interesting also and was up a long stairway that had a good view of the city.  However, there were so many beggars and they had people selling small coins (100 rupees for 50 rupees worth of coins - make sense right? Lol) and some crackers.  I didn’t want to buy anything, but I bought some crackers to give to the children and old people.  Then a guy who wanted me to buy his coins put it in my hand and wouldn’t take it back - this is a trick they use - well I gave it to the other guy selling coins and then he wanted money for the coins.  There was no way I was giving him anything and we just took off.  That is the thing with these hawkers, they are rude and you can’t just say “No” even if you say it a hundred times and very forcefully and they still won’t stop.  It is just annoying and exhausting that you just ignore them.  This is my biggest pet peeve about India.  The people are always trying to sell you something and they won’t go away when you say “No”.  It just becomes exhausting arguing with them.  I think that they just assume that we are foreign that we have lots of money and will just pay them to go away.  This is something that I will never get used to and one reason why I can’t wait to leave India.  Also, the pollution and dust has taken its toll on my lungs.

Just an example, the kid that showed me around and had the friend to take me to the cave and other place that had a school and the school wanted money.  I couldn’t and didn’t give a donation and then after the kid took me around to some of the temples and offered to bring me home to meet his family for dinner wanted me to pay for 2 years of his schooling.  I told him I didn’t have any money and that I was still paying for my schooling.

Then as I was walking to the main temple to go meditate, I met this little kid who wanted to sell me some map.  I declined,  then he followed me all over and asked me to buy him a kit kat.  I thought he wanted the candy bar and said okay, well he wanted a cricket stick. Then he said he wanted some holi (sp) that would be good for his mind, soul, and well being, only 146 rupees he told me - again I declined.  So after about an hour of him hanging around,  he said he was hungry and could he have 30 rupees (.60 cents) so I gave him 30 rupees.  I would have rather not because it just breeds begging, but he did look hungry and was a good kid.  After giving him the 30 rupees I showed him I only had 20 rupees left and that he was richer than me.  He just laughed.

Bodhgaya was a very peaceful place inside the temple grounds, especially at night with the chanting and all the monks meditating.  It was a good place to try and clear my head.

I  have hired a driver, through a travel agency, to bring me to Rajgir, Nalanda, Kusinagar (another of the four sacred Buddha cities - where he died) and to the Indian/Nepal border where I will get a taxi to Lumbini (another of the four sacred Buddha cities - where he was born).  They are picking me up at 8:00 am tomorrow and I should be in Nepal in about 3.   I’m not sure if I will follow my plans or just go to Kathmandu (10 hour bus ride/30 minute plane ride) or go to Pokhara and then Kathmandu.  I will see once I reach Nepal.

Day 12 - Varanasi to Gaya

I met a guy today who owns and shop in Varanasi and his brother owns a shop in Gaithersburg.  He was a nice guy, but he wanted me to see what he had for sale.  I declined.  Also met another guy who was very nice, but wanted me to see (just see - not buy) his silk.  I also declined.  I am sick of looking at this silk stuff.  Although, I did buy a blanket/shawl today for $3.  I figured it would help keep me warm during the cold nights.

Also met this kid, John, who loves the American dollar “even though it has declined in value”.  He wanted me to buy some postcards.  He started at $10 and then was going to throw in something else for a 100 rupees or $2, again I declined.

This afternoon I took the train from Varanasi to Gaya.  I got to the station around 3:45 and there were no announcements or anything about what platform the train would be on.  The train was supposed to leave at 4:27, but there were still no announcements at 4:25.  A kid from China somehow knew I was waiting for the train and asked me about it and I said it was probably just delayed and that is why there was no announcement.

So the train that was supposed to take 5 hours took 7 hours and I didn’t get into Gaya until 11:00.  I had the upper bunk for the train ride, which was very claustrophobic and quite uncomfortable when you aren’t sleeping and a pain to get up and down in, especially when you don’t know what stop you are at and need to get off.  A guy who I was talking to about my kindle let me know when I needed to get off so I didn’t have to keep jumping up and down.  The only way to know when to get off is the time of arrival (which doesn’t help since most of the trains are not on time - it is this time of year because of fog.  I was told they run on time during the hot season.

I wanted to stay in Gaya until morning and then take a rickshaw the 10km (5 miles) in the morning.  However, this rickshaw driver said he knew a great hotel.  I should have followed my first instincts because he took me to a hotel that looked fine, but the guy wouldn’t show me the room before he wanted me to pay and at $12 I wasn’t going to do that so I asked the rickshaw driver to take me to some other places and it being almost midnight everyplace was booked so we had to come back to the first hotel and I paid for the room (without seeing it) and it was a decent room.  I don’t know why he just wouldn’t show me the room.  Very strange.

Day 11 - Sarnath

Me and a girl I met from Belgium visited  Sarnath, one the four most sacred Buddhist cities.  In Sarnath, the Buddha gave his first sermon.  The most impressive site in Sarnath is the Dhamekh Stupa, built around 500 AD.  Other building in Sarnath were broken down over time in the 18th century to be used for bridges and markets in Varanasi.

The Mulgandhakuti Vihar marks the site where the Buddha mediated during his monsoon retreats at Sarnath.

Many countries have built temples around the site so monks on pilgrimages have a place to stay.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

India is Like an Acid Trip

I have determined that India is like an acid trip. It can either be a good trip or a bad trip, but it is a trip. It is totally chaotic. There is really no structure, people are urinating and defecating in the streets, animals are running wild, there appear to be no traffic laws, you have the super rich living right next to the super poor, but it all seems to work somehow.

Internet is slow and don't have good connection so I will post pictures when I can.

Day 10 - Varanasi

Varanasi is a very interesting, spiritual place. You can really feel the power of the Ganges river and the cycle of life and death here. I was worried that it was going to be filled with fake spiritual people trying to rip you off, and I am sure there are, but I haven’t seen any. There also seems to be more animals in the street (cows, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, mice, rats, and monkeys). However, the pollution here is terrible. I’m not sure if I got a cold or if it is all the pollution, but I can’t breathe and my throat is scratchy.

Last night we went on an evening boat ride to see some of the spiritual ceremonies that take place on the river. Within two seconds I was almost hit in the head with a cricket ball (missed my head by about 2 inches) because I wasn’t paying attention to the game because I was moving out of the way of a charging bull that was coming right at me. The boat ride was nice, although the mosquitoes were horrendous. However, I did not seem to get any bites. Anyway, after the boat ride I came back and passed out.

Today, I had to wake up around 5:30 because we took a morning boat ride to see the sunrise, bathing ceremonies and burning of the bodies on the river. They cremate around 1500 bodies a day at each of the burning sites. It really makes you think because on one side of the river you have the sun coming up, there is the beach and trees a kind of symbol for birth or life and on the other side you have the cleaning of the dead and their cremated ashes of those who have past on into the next life (death) being tossed into the river. It is a pretty powerful statement for the circle of life and death on banks of the Ganges.

After the boat ride and some breakfast we (guide, two girls from Belgium went to some Hindu temples and saw some of the ceremonies. The one temple was like it’s a small world with all types of animated puppet shows. After the tour the girls wanted to go to an astrologer so I went with them.

So anyway, the guy from the hotel brought us to this guy that has counseled Goldie Hawn and Michael Jackson among many others. He was very expensive and had three different prices depending upon what you wanted done. I picked the cheapest option, but he told me I should have the full reading. I politely declined.

I was supposed to go to Sarnath today, but because of the reading it was way too late so we came back to the hotel to eat, rest and do some laundry. Early night tonight - there is a goat that likes to get up very early in the morning and start crying.

Day 9 - Agra to Varanasi

Well, the 12 hour train took 15 hours, almost as much time as it took me to get to India from DC. A group of us that were at the hotel in Agra are staying at the same hotel here in Varanasi. Upon arriving they didn't have a room for me (some guy was ill and had a late train) so they put me in the shop to rest. The guy that picked us up is India’s version of Borat, a real character. Signed up for an evening boat ride on the Ganges, a morning boat ride on the Ganges, a tour of the city temples and a trip to Sarnath (one of the four holy Buddha cities) where Siddhartha Gautama came to preach his message of Nirvana after he reached enlightenment.

Agra, India

Of all the places I have been so far I have liked the city of Agra the best. And, to think that I was not even thinking of coming here. I don't know if the reason I liked Agra so much is that I am starting to get used to India or if it because it is little more touristy and they have some nice cafes and rooftop restaurants that can help you get away from the craziness of the street. Also, the people here don't seem to be as pushy as in other places. Sure everyone wants to take you to a marble shop or some other shop to sell you some "handmade" items, but you only have to say "No, thankyou!" two or three times. Also, the weather has been wonderful, but a little too cold at that night that I had to wear pants and socks to bed.

Day 8 - Fatehpur Sikri

Today I hired a driver to take me to Fatehpur Sikri, a fortified city that is about 24 miles from Agra and was the capital of the Mughal empire between 1571 and 1585 during the reign of Emperor Akbar.

People tie sting on the window for their wishes.

I am taking the 11:30 train to Varanasi tonight.