Friday, November 23, 2007

Lots of travel to Darjeeling and Varanasi

I have been through some of the most travel-intensinve times in my life. I left the orphanage on Thursday the 15th at 6 pm, drove 3 hours to the train station, took a 32-hour train trip to Kolkata, then a 14-hour bus ride to Siliguri, then a 3 hour bus to Darjeeling. Coming out of Darjeeling, I took a 3-hour bus to Siliguri, then a 14 hour bus to Patna, then a 5 hour train ride to Varanasi. That made my week's total travel time about 75 hours, not including waiting time. I will never do that willingly again.
Darjeeling, however, was definitely worth it. Set upon a ridge amidst lush green valleys, this old British hill-station is famous for its teas. It is one of the first places the British secretly imported tea to break the monopolies the Chinese and Dutch had upon the tea trade. Some of the original tea plantations still operate independantly and give demonstrations on how to make proper, high-quality tea and how to properly brew a cup or a pot. The most astounding part of Darjeeling, however, is the view. On three sides of the city, valleys drop thousands of feet down from the roads, and extend into true hill-country on the east and west sides. To the north, the land extends into the Himilayas, and dominating the view is a cluster of peaks containing Khangchendzonga, the third highest peak in the world. Clouds hang in the sky mid-way up the mountains and their shadows slide slowly across the villages in the hills below. Sitting at 7,000 + feet in Darjeeling, the crisp, thin air gives backpackers a giddiness that intensifies feelings so that many people just sit and stare at the views. There was a great coffe shop with mochas for 40 rupees (about $1), and I was sound as a pound. Mostly, I drank tea and read books.
Right now, I am in Varanasi, a holy and grimey city. I just got into a bit of a scuffle, which could've easily turned into a fight. I took a picture of the Ganges near one of the funeral Ghats and some people accused me of taking a picture of dying people. I hadn't been of course, and anyway I was pointed the opposite direction. I showed them that I intended no offense
and they asked me to come and help an old woman, to say sorry. Trying to be gracious, I assented, but then they wanted money. I told them no, and then they started to follow me, saying it was what I owed. I told them that I didn't take a picture of the funeral pyres, but they didn't listen and said it didn't matter. Then one guy started to say that he would make truble for me; that was when I got mad and said he better leave me alone. He grabbed me and I pushed him off. Another American saw this and came over, told me that I shouldn't give them anything. He turned and told the instigators that there would be trouble and they would be IN trouble if they didn't leave me alone.
He said they did the same thing to him yesterday and when a policeman walked up, they ran off. There were 6 or so of them, and I was lucky the guy came over. I am rather apathetic about the city on the whole, but I'm glad to have seen it. The ghats are mostly old and decrepit, the river is brown and smelly. Alas, I did not see a dolphin.

There was a bombing yesterday in the city, but it was on the other side and I didn't even know about it until it was on the news. So, I am fine everyone. Going to Agra tonight, then Jaipur. Home all's well and that everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 09, 2007


I have been traveling.

Much of it has been great, some of it frustrating, and all of it has been more expensive than I thought.

I am half way through the trip and still not too sick. In Turkey, I visited Cappadocia, Olympos, Fetiye, Ephesis, Selcuk, Pergamum, Yzmir and Istanbul. All were amazing, but I think my favorite was Pergamum. What a breathtaking Acropolis it has! It is set far above the city, and I am confident that if it were to still have many of the friezes that were taken abroad, it would rank among the world's wonders.

Africa was a bit different than I had thought. it took money to take all of the taxis around (for security reasons), organized tours and accomodations. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and made it to the top, though my guide was pushy and annoying. Safari was great, and I saw nearly all of the African savannah game animals in my time on the Masai Mara, and at Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha.

I am in New Delhi right now, eating the best food I have in years. I walked around the Red Fort today, and went to the Gandhi Museum and to his funeral pyre, which is in the middle of beautiful parks. I have walked all around old Delhi, which is a warren of alleys and rickshaw streets, lined with shops and sales stands. It is still very eastern here, and retains a far different atmosphere than the western world. Tomorrow I go to Chennai for a week, where I will be working/helping out in an orphanage that was partially funded by my home church.