Travel Blog-Day 14

January 2, 2012 6 comments

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 14: Kushinigar

I got up at 4:30, showered and went out.  I walked all over. Kushinigar is basically one street, 2.5 kilometers long in the shape of an upside down “L”.  I went to all the monasteries that were open.  I visited the Mahaparanirvana Temple.  This is the temple where the very famous statue of the Buddha reclining on his deathbed, laying on his right side, is.  It is covered in gold leaf and is 9 meters long.

After I left, two kids started following me, a boy Ranjin and a girl Nissa.  They were very polite and didn’t want anything except to walk with me.    I spent all morning with them.  They went with me to every temple.  Whenever there was any kind of guard at the entrance, they wouldn’t let Ranjin and Nissa in.  I told all the guards they were my friends and I wouldn’t come in if they couldn’t.  The guards let them in.  This show of loyalty seemed to impress the kids, especially Nissa, who is incredibly cute.  The traffic here, while not bad compared to the rest of India, is still heavy with crazies who honk their horns and then would think nothing of running you over.  I kept Nissa and Ranjin on my left side walking down the “sidewalk”.  They seemed to like that someone was caring about their safety.  At the Thai Monastery, an old monk walked out of the front gate and in perfect English started talking to me asking the usual questions, “where are you from”, etc.  He asked if I had eaten, I told him yes, and he said he was going to the temple, but please come into the monastery.  He left, I turned to go into the monastery and an Indian guard wouldn’t let me in.  The guard had seen me talking to the old monk.  I didn’t quite get it.

After we spent the morning together, Nissa and Ranjin left to go home.  They actually wanted nothing.  Meeting them made me miss my son very much.

Walking back to the Chinese monastery, I saw my first elephant on this trip.  He was working at the Thai monastery.  Good looking elephant, too.  Big pink ears, he seemed happy.

Got back to the Chinese monastery, took a nap, went and had a thali for lunch and came back to the monastery.

I sat and had some chai with Mr. Roy.  He’s quite a nice guy and very knowledgeable about the area and Dharma.  He’s originally from Assam, but lived for a long time in Kolkata.  He also taught school for about seven years in Nepal.  A genuinely nice man.

The heat is very oppressive.  It is as if there is a blow dryer on you all the time.  It’s actually not as bad as I remember it in the past, but much worse than the Yucatan Peninsula was last year when I visited with my family.

Reclining Buddha in the Mahaparanirvana Temple

Nissa of Kushinigar

An Elephant Working in Kushinigar

The Wonderful Mr. Roy, proprietor of the Yama Café in Kushinigar

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 13

December 27, 2011 1 comment

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 13: Gorakhpur-Kushinigar

Got into Gorakhpur at 9am.  Went to the bus station, which was easy enough, for the trip to Kushinigar.  I was told the busses for Kushinigar were at the end of the road.  Halfway, a bus tout stopped me and asked where I was going.  When I said Kushinigar, he said this was the bus.  I asked “how much”, he looked into the air and said 50rs.  I kept walking.  Got to the end of the bus “station” It’s not really what we in the West would consider a “station”.  It’s a road filled with busses, that’s it!  Well, at the end of the “station” there was the bus for Kushinigar.  It was 37rs.

Instead of a two-hour ride, it really was three hours, because of all the road construction, which seems to be going on everywhere I’ve been.

I get there, I find Café Yama, which Lonely Planet recommends if you need any help or have questions.  A Mr. Roy is the owner.  I walked in, hadn’t slept all night; it’s burning hot.  I must’ve looked horrible.  I asked if he knew anywhere I could stay?  He recommended the Chinese monastery next door.  The Tibetan monastery was being renovated and had nothing.  I went to the Chinese monastery, found a Vietnamese monk (why Vietnamese I don’t know) and got a room.  A pretty good room too.  Other than the Vietnamese monk, I am the only person here.  As far as I can tell, and Mr. Roy thinks this is true, I am the only Westerner in Kushinigar right now.

I had lunch at Café Yama.  Mr. Roy’s wife made Tibetan Thukpa (noodle soup of sorts) for me.  It was the best I’ve ever had.  I went to my room, took a nap, awoke at 7pm, went and had a sprite, came back and went to sleep.

Map of Kushinigar

Thai Stupa at Kushinigar

 

Categories: Travel

Travel Bog-Day 12

December 20, 2011 1 comment

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 12: Varanasi

Went to Dasaswamehd Ghat at 5:3am.  It was hopping.  The Ganges had completely overflowed because of all the rain.  People were swimming, chanting, and pretty much everything you can think of.  Very interesting.

I went walking down Bengali Tole in Godaulia today and saw Rob from Cambridge.  He wasn’t high.  He didn’t even look at me.  I said “Hi, Rob, do you remember me?”  He answered no.  I told him, that I was the guy who helped him out two days ago, getting him a room, etc.  He said, “Oh, yes, you look familiar, thanks, cheers.” And walked away.

I left Eden Halt tonight at 9:00pm to go to Varanasi Junction, the train station to catch my train to Gorakhpur. My ticket was for the 11:15 train.  I got a cycle rickshaw to the train station.  It started to absolutely pour sheets of rain out of the sky.  My poncho was deep in my backpack.  By the time I got to the train station, I was thoroughly soaked.

The train, like I said, was scheduled for 11:15.  It didn’t show up until 1:00am, and was supposed to arrive at Gorakhpur at 7:30am.  We didn’t get there until 9:00am.

Dasaswamehd Ghat

Dasaswamehd Ghat

Dasaswamehd Ghat

Beautiful Little Girl in Varanasi

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 11

December 11, 2011 8 comments

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 11: Varanasi-Sarnath

I got up and went to Sarnath today, the Deer Park, where the Buddha gave his first teaching.  It was different than what I remembered, but then everything seems to be.  There never was admission before, but now there is.  It was very nice to be there.  Except for one Southeast Asian monk, four Thai nuns and two Japanese women, I was the only one there.  There was a slight drizzle, really a gentle mist in the air.  It was not hot.  The experience was very, very wonderful.

Sarnath is about ten to twelve kilometers outside of Varanasi.  I took a cycle rickshaw to get there.  The rickshaw wallah seemed to be quite sick and constantly coughing.  Whenever there was any kind of upward incline he just couldn’t make.  I kept getting out so he didn’t have to cycle so hard.  On the way back, I got another cycle rickshaw.  This guy, even though he appeared older than the first, was singing the whole way back.  It started to pour, it is monsoon season, I put on my poncho and am fine, the rickshaw wallah didn’t seem to care at all.

I went to a music store and was talking to the owner about sitars, Mohan Veenas and stuff.  He kept getting phone calls.  I asked if anything was wrong.  He told me, he was renovating his house and was having trouble with the contractor.  He said they don’t show up on time, telling him what they can’t do, and keep raising the price.  Go figure, contractors are the same everywhere.

Dhamekh Stupa at Sarnath

Monk studying at Sarnath

Dhamekh Stupa at Sarnath

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 10

December 4, 2011 3 comments

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 10: Varanasi

I saw the guy who helped Rob from Cambridge get his room.  He told me after I left, he brought him food and Rob was just gone.  He hadn’t seen him since.

Existential disconnect!

I was invited today to go to the house of and meet Dr. V. Balaji.  He is the chair of the music department at Benares Hindu University.  Very interesting home.  His “studio” is a puja room.  Dr. Balaji has a large number of shrines in this room, most of which are to Kali-the Destroyer.  He kept talking full blast, with a mouthful of paan.  I couldn’t understand most of what was being said.  He had the usual blather about music expressing emotions.  To “prove” it he sang. Dr. V. Balaji says this is sadness and sings, and then Dr. V. Balaji says now this is happiness and sings more.  He proved the Buddhist concept of “Emptiness” to me, or the Stravinsky statement that “Music expresses nothing.”  Nothing he sang sounded like it was expressing what he was saying.  I’m certain it did to him, and probably to most Indian musicians it would’ve too, but to a Westerner not brought up in that culture, why would it?

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 9

November 23, 2011 11 comments

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post daily until it’s all finished.

Day 9: Varanasi

Varanasi is one of the great cities of the world.  If you go to India, this place is a must to visit.

I learned a great deal about cows today.  I had a conversation with the proprietor of Eden Halt, the guesthouse where I’m staying in Varanasi.  His name is Sanjay, great guy.  We talked about Hinduism, cows, family, and Ayer Vedic medicine, basically a whole bunch of stuff.  I always wondered why, if the cow is so sacred in India, that they are in cities where they cannot possibly be happy.  I thought, here this animal is considered sacred.  Why not put them all on farms in the country and take care of them so they’re happy?  He told me, the reason is all the cows in India are owned by someone.  They’re not just roaming free.  The owners make a good deal of money from selling their milk.  Pilgrims come and give donations to feed the cows.  Sometimes, they’ll give a donation to feed the cow for a month, a few months or even a year.  Obviously, the cow owner gets many donations.  This is a profitable business!  Sanjay, the proprietor, told me that there’s also another scam going on.  He called it a scam.  Pilgrims come and they buy the cow from the cow owner.  They in turn donate to a Brahmin.  The Brahmin then sells it back to the same cow owner at a reduced price.  The cow owner, and the Brahmin make a good profit.  The pilgrim is scammed.  Religion, what a great thing!

I saw a guy today stumbling down Bengali Tole in Varanasi.  He was bouncing off the walls and falling down.  Falling here means falling into absolute garbage, cow shit and any other awful thing one can think of.  He had on a backpack, headphones, etc., a true stoned tourist.  His name was Rob, from Cambridge.  I stopped and asked if he needed help.  He said yes, he didn’t know where he was.  He told me he had nowhere to sleep.  He’d been smoking hash all day.  Well, the short of it is, I found him a room.  Gave him some biscuits.  The guest room proprietor fronted him some money, he had nothing, his father was going to Western Union him some money tomorrow.  It amazed me.  A place filled with people worried about their Karma, doing incessant pujas to Shiva, Krishna and every other blue god you can think of, and no one is helping him.  No tourists were helping him either.  This was potentially life threatening.  Drugs are illegal in India as in most countries, but the penalties are incredibly harsh.  There are foreigners in Indian prisons for possession of hashish.

I took Rob to Vishnu Rest House.  They took one look at him and said they were full.  I guy named Amit saw me and asked if he could help.  He helped us find a room and got the guest house proprietor to take Rob in and give him some money.

I had dinner at this hole-in-the-wall I eat at every time I’ve ever been in Varanasi.  The guy makes the best dosas I’ve ever eaten.  I stopped by around 4pm and he said he wasn’t making dosas until 5 and to come back.  I show up right at 5.  He smiles at me and says “not yet”.  I get a somosa covered in lentils and curry.  It was absolutely incredible.  The best somosa I’ve ever, ever, ever had.  He then makes me a masala dosa.  Fantastic!  I ask him how much, he says 18 rupees.  This is so little; I think he says 80 rupees.  80 rupees is only about $1.80.  He said no, just 18.  I paid 40 cents for one of the best meals I have ever had.

 

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 8

November 12, 2011 34 comments

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post daily until it’s all finished.

Day 8: Bodhgaya-Varanasi

Woke up at 5am, packed my stuff, and went to the Mahabodhi Temple to take some pictures.  I got some great shots.  Had a good omelet with toast for breakfast.  It calmed my stomach down.  I go back to the “guest house” to get my backpack and hear my name being called.  Its Kumar, he says he had 2 missed calls on his phone from me and asked what I wanted.  He had given me his number, but I had simply thrown it away and never called him.  I told him, he was mistaken and walked away.

I got my bag, went to the auto rickshaw stand and got a ride to Gaya.  The ride was interesting.  The military had closed the direct rode from Bodhgaya to Gaya, so we went around the long way.  It took 1-½ hours instead of ½ hour.  Got to Gaya and got a cheap room.  My train was at 4:30am and I didn’t want to chance getting an auto rickshaw at that time of night, so I decided to stay in Gaya.  That is another thing about this Kumar.  He offered the first day to take me to Gaya on his motorbike for free when I left.  The second day he said it would cost 400 rupees.  When I said no thank you, he told me then he wasn’t responsible for whatever would happen to me when I tried to go to Gaya.  That guy and his memory give me the creeps.  If anyone reading this ever goes to Bodhgaya, please be on the lookout for a guy in his late 20’s, early 30’s named Kumar Ashok.  I really think he’s potentially dangerous.

The day/night I spent in Gaya was incredibly horrible.  No mosquito netting or screens on the windows, I was bitten worse than I have ever been.  I counted 20 bites on my right bicep alone.  I didn’t sleep at all.  Incredibly hot, so many mosquitoes, loud fan, just horrible!

One funny story, I was walking around Gaya looking for food. I found this Hotel called Hotel Buddha International.  It had 4 stars.  I figured I needed some clean food and wanted to pamper myself.  I walked in.  It’s empty.  I go to the front desk, the man at the desk says it is open, goes into the restaurant and gets some waiters.  I’m told they only have breakfast snacks and Chinese food.  I order vegetable chowmein.  It shows up and is pretty good, but what is interesting is that there are 5 waiters standing around watching me eat.  I’m the only one there.  I’ve noticed that here.  No matter how big or small a restaurant is they have a lot of waiters standing around doing nothing.  Well, this old guy dressed in black, who I think was the headwaiter, because everyone else was dressed in white, comes with the chowmein.  He stands there and plates it for me.  Some noodles are dangling off of the serving plate; mind you this guy does not look very clean, needs a shave, and smells quite bad.  Well, he takes the noodles in his left hand, which in India is considered unclean and puts them on my plate.  I remove them with my fork and put them on the tablecloth.  This isn’t as bad as it sounds since the tablecloth was very, very filthy.  He just smiled at me.  He stood there and every time I drank any water he would fill my glass.  Whenever I stopped eating for a moment, he refilled my plate.  Then he brought the bill.  With VAT and taxes and what they called “rounding up”, the bill nearly doubled.  Now this is really only $2, but when I gave him the money he gave me incorrect change and ripped paper bills.  In India, no one will accept these; I would’ve been stuck with them. I complain, he says he’s sorry, gets me the correct change and clean, new bills.  Remember, this is all in a 4 star hotel/restaurant.

Categories: Travel