Monday, February 28, 2005

16. Footnotes to the Foothills

Fig 16-1: The State of Indian Door Lock Technology

Outside the window this morning, there is a horn tooting1. Outside the door, there is a dog barking2. Across the room, Jecca is blowing her nose3.

This is Darjeeling, people, and it certainly is quaint, but it is also very cold. Although two hundred meters lower than our previous perch in the southern hill station of Kodaikanal, it is nonetheless colder and more beautiful, perhaps due to the fact that it is lodged way up in the Himalayas--essentially between Nepal, China (Tibet), Bhutan, and Bangladesh--and not some tropical southern latitude. Rumor has it that if you hike to the right spot, at the right ungodly hour of the morning, you can see the sun rise behind Mt. Everest (8848 meters), just over the shoulder Mt. Khangchendzonga (the runner up in the Ms. Himalaya Contest at 8598 meters). I'm sure that I'll report on how beautiful it is if we ever get up early enough to see it.


  1. The Horn: The horn that toots belongs to the "Toy Train" that you can take from Siliguri Junction Station in New Jalpaigari, up the side of the mountain, into Darjeeling. Truly, this is as cute of a train as the title implies, with a real coal burning Thomas the Tank Engine look to it, although it takes a staggering nine hours and 300 Rupees ($7.50) to complete the same task as the bus that we took for a mere three hours and 60 Rupees ($1.50). The only catch with the bus, however, is that there is no hopping off at the station to use the bathroom, so if you didn't use the bathroom in New Jalpaigari, and you drank a lot of water on the night train from Kolkata, then odds are good that you weren't really able to take in all of the scenery, and even the abbreviated three hour trip was far, far too long.
  2. The Dog: Darjeeling, like the rest of India, supports a healthy population of feral dogs who live in the streets (or on beaches or paths, regional geography permitting) and do charming things such as eat garbage and run around barking at each other all night long, and occasionally thrashing one another within (at least what sounds to be) inches of their lives. Now, don't mistake my intention here; I like dogs running about, and while some are old and beaten looking, there are plenty of cute little puppies, and even more cute crotchety old dogs lying around. Some have homes, some have collars that would imply homes, and some are clearly of the urban wilderness, though all seem to be surviving regardless of their circumstance. Actually, this being a country that (largely) holds all life as sacred, even the street dogs, the most part, are all fairly well taken care of, and generally good natured when it comes to the presence of passing American backpackers.
  3. The Sniffles: The movement from hot beach to cold hill station to hot city to freezing mountain outpost has been tough on our health, and both of us are sniffling and sneezing and covered in so many--though never enough--blankets. Perhaps due to my delicate constitution, I've been sick for a week now (I was done in by the cold nights in Kodaikanal), while Jecca, either being more hearty than I, or due her readiness to wear a winter hat at night ("Your head is a chimney," she keeps telling me) has only been sick since the tail end of our time in Calcutta. Either way, what we both have seems to fall under the general heading of having a cold, and doesn't generally impede our daytime activities, but rather, it translates into a lot of sniffling and sneezing when we're trying to sleep, just between the hours of the night when the feral dogs start barking at each other, and whatever hour the Toy Train starts tooting its horn again in the morning.

15. Continuing the Great Tradition of Following White Rabbits

Fig 15-1: Electronic Rabbit Photohunt (Leopold Cafe, Mumbai)


  • White Rabbit (hwIt 'ra-b&t) noun:
    1. a fellow tourist in India, often distinguishable by the paleness of their skin.
    2. a useful reference point when trying to navigate between locations generally frequented by tourists.

Alice followed one into Wonderland, Keanu Reeves followed one out of The Matrix, and while traveling in India, we follow them when we don't know where to go.

The fact is that there are only so many white people in this country, so odds are good that any given white person that you see is a tourist. Likewise, there are only so many places in this country that tourists go, so if you're ever feeling lost, the presence of fellow tourists is not only of particular comfort, it also happens to be very useful: if you don't know the exact name of the exact town in which you're supposed to get off of a bus or train (typically this happens when the towns are very small, and it's necessary to stop there to switch to another bus or train), all you have to do is follow any white rabbits that might be around.

At best, the result is wonderland, at worst, you learn the truth about reality and that you are the only one who can save humanity from its evil robot captors, although most of the time it simply means that you get where you're going without too much hassle or second guessing.

Friday, February 18, 2005

14. I'm Lovin' It

Fig. 14-1: Where is Waldo? (Botanical Garden, Bangalore)

From the beach to the mountains: we've arrived in Kodaikanal and it is beautiful. As for the above picture? I'm not so sure that commentary is necessary--this is just one that simply needed to see the light of day.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

13. The Beach is a Beautiful Place

Fig 13-1,2,3,4: Sunset on Repeat
(click bottom row to enlarge pictures)

I wish that there was some way to upload the covertly shot video footage that accompanies the above still shots of a woman dancing to the sun setting over the Arabian Sea.

Jecca and I stumbled upon her one night, during the most beautiful sunset that I think either of us has ever seen, and there she was: a normal enough woman, wearing a skirt and a bikini top, listening to some sort of cd or mp3 player, and celebrating the setting sun by doing a confused sort of modern dance consisting of the repeated motion of bringing her hands together near her heart, and then fully extending her arms out to her sides as if she might miraculously rise into the sky, over and over again. This woman seemed determined to dance until the last bit of light had left the sky, and the catch here was that whatever song she was listening to wasn’t long enough, so she would have to halt this celebration every few minutes to stop, rewind the song, and then start flinging herself around again. If your religion is the setting sun, and your hymnal comes in the form of one song, religiously repeated, then don’t you think you would owe it to yourself (and to the sun, for that matter) to figure out how to use the repeat function on your cd player?

There have been fleeting moments when I look around at all of the white kids with dreadlocks, all the OM symbols or pot leafs embroidered onto clothing in all seriousness, or people engaging in these sorts of religious routines, and forget that I don’t fit in. These usually only last a minute, and this particular event certainly wasn’t one of those moments. Lest we forget, if even just momentarily, we have reminders like these all around us: we truly are surrounded by hippies.

Fig 13-5,6,7,8: Sunset at Varkala Beach
(click bottom row to enlarge pictures)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

12. CONFESSIONS: Part 1 and Part 2

Fig. 12-1: Self Portrait with Christmas Lights, Varkala Beach

1. I wear sandals everyday. If I'm not wearing sandals, I'm wearing flip-flops. If I'm not wearing sandals or flip-flops? Odds are good that I'm in the ocean, or else sleeping.

2. I wear my key to our padlock (our only door lock in most places) on a piece of string around my neck. Jecca informs me that this makes me either look like a frat boy or like I’m in the army. I found the piece of string in the sand somewhere between our beach hut in Palolem Beach, and the ocean. It could have come from anywhere. Clean? If it ever was, it's not anymore. Sharp looking? You better believe that it's not.

3. I wear linen pants most of the time. If not, then my pants are light cotton or (in a major city) blue jeans. Regardless of which pair of these I'm wearing, more often than not, I roll them up way too far, giving off the unmistakable impression that I am wearing clam diggers. Clam diggers. I'm not kidding, nor am I proud, but it keeps the cuffs from getting wet, and I am on vacation, so what the hell.

4. I am nearly incapable of taking my own advice when it comes to both itching bug bites and dealing with peeling sunburn. This is simply one of my deficiencies as a person, and I can accept that, even if my poor shoulders cannot.

5. I forgot to take my Mefloquine on Monday. I took it on Tuesday instead. To my knowledge, I don't have malaria yet.

6. Sometimes I forget to keep my mouth shut in the shower, sometimes I forget to keep my eyes closed in the shower, and one time, I accidentally brushed my teeth with tap water. I have yet to get sick, which means that I am either hearty, lucky, or both. I do not want to get sick, but I will more than happily write all about it when I eventually do. If I’m too ill to do it myself, then I’m sure that Jecca will do me that justice.

7. It can be assumed, by the way that bars and restaurants here name themselves, that the tourist industry here either doesn’t have a handle on subtlety, or doesn’t trust the intelligence of its clientele. This means that, in pursuit of things to do after the sun goes down, we have subjected ourselves to the following not-so-subtly named places:

  • The Laughing Buddha, Palolem Beach: The name says it all, really: you couldn't turn anywhere without making a friend (the kind of friend that they taught us to avoid in D.A.R.E.).
  • Pub World, Bangalore: This over-stylized watering hole boasted four unique bars under one roof (a Wild West Saloon, Manhattan Cocktail Bar, German Beer Hall, and English Pub), though it came off more like a forgotten T.G.I. Fridays of the future, and in the end, just seemed like a normal bar with a badly confused interior.
  • The Funky Art Cafe, North Cliff Varkala Beach: Possibly winning the award for the worst name, considering that it’s not a horrible place; we’ve spent a couple of nights here watching the lights off fishing boats way out at sea, though it’s exciting name seems to have made it the hotspot in this little beach community. It packs tourists in at such an alarming rate some nights that we’ve mostly opted for other more nameless places along the cliff.
8. We haven't been anywhere but this beach since February started. Yesterday, we redecorated our little room so that now there's a table set up in the middle of the room for playing cards and Scrabble, under which we can stack the pile of books that we're working on reading.

9. If I don't leave the computer right now, I'm going to miss the sunset.

1. There isn't really a part two: I just liked the title. Shout out to Usher.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

11. Please Do the Needful

Fig. 11-1: Letter of Introduction
* * *

Hinted at, alluded to: Jecca and I spent big dollars on my birthday. Eveyone would have been proud. The food was good, the three people operating one boat on our behalf for just over fifty dollars apiece was good, but in all honesty, the boat did not move that much. $cam Artists.

Fig. 11-2
: I Got a Sunset For My Birthday