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micheledunlop’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 14 Feb 2007

Location: New Zealand

MapWord/ Idea of the moment:

Tupu-ing - - what is now is correct and what now is becoming is also correct and all the process is to be respected. Sounds a little wierd but best I can do until I can think of a better way to explain it. Possibly one of those "it's the journey not the end" sort of things.

another one is serendipity - a happy happenstance. - love that idea

1. Reading now - Dragonspell
2. Doing now - resting and learning to make a web page
3. backpac - Firstlight (NZ)
4. Looking forward to next - Varekai <

Recent trip
Arrived in KL with 12 hours up my sleeve. Caught the local trains into KL and sat under the Two Towers – amazing outside, just another shopping centre inside. Being new to travel I was pleased with being able to get to the city and then find my way back to the airport on local trains without too many hitches. Really really enjoyed a coffee and crème brulee about the same size as an OZ pie. Just the perfect size of brulee for me. Fascinating thing - you catch a train to immigration – it’s fast and you can sit at the giant full windows at the front and end parts of the train - like being in a helicopter or imax.

I arrived in India in the evening and could easily spot my namecard amongst all the others. The driver had brought along another man who’s job was possibly to swell the tip receiving crowd. The man chatted all the way in to the city and told me that he has a Masters in Tourism and ultimately was aiming to become an escort? Unfortunately for him, his heart was very very sad to hear that at my great age I still had to work and had no family to take care of me. Of course this did not stop him from indicating that a tip for his company was required - but "only as much as I wished to give" (and which is never enough)

1st day full of fear that a germ may get me etc, finally went down stairs to be told by the receptionist and door man that it was not safe to go outside. After reading the paper and twideling my thumbs for some time I went back to the foyer and asked for a map. They phoned to get one and then about 5 minutes later a man came to take me with him to get a map, which, lo and behold was kept in his Indian Tribal Tours office and along with the map he set me up with a driver for the day –all a bit of a con but ok to get me out and about. We had to walk quite a bit to find the car, and then come back and literally ask around a group to find another when my driver realised that I had paid for air-conditioning. After that day I was confident that I could probably get around by myself

That day we visited Humayuns’ Tomb, a Mosque and the Qutub Minar. The driver set me at the gate and asked me to estimate the minutes I might need to see what ever I was off to see. I learned that day that I don’t like being just me and a driver. At the end of the day I was required to tip the driver – I had no idea how much to give.

The owner of the Indian Tribal Tours asked me what I had booked for the end of the tour and of course I had nothing – he suggested that after Rajasthan, Rishikesh would be a good contrast and then proceeded to organize that for me – driver/guide and hotels. it was a opportunity for him and the arrangement was kind but I won’t be doing that again, (instead do more homework myself)

Everywhere we went I was impressed at what was being acheived by labourers with very little in the way of equipment - as evidenced by these two photos, the scenes are by no means unusal, they are building the 2nd Minar.

Next day I met Val and Thora from Canada who were going to be part of the Intrepid Trip I was booked on - I walked around the markets with them, arranged to have a pink and orange silk Sulwar Kemeze made (stunning and will wear to varekai) and then made off to the Bahai Temple. The hotel foyer people arranged a taxi take me there. I passed through beautiful and hopeless areas. I found the temple stunning – heaps and heaps of Indian people visiting, a very orderly and happy crowd. We had to take our shoes off - and we handed them in under the steps. We received a little token, and it was just as quick and orderly to get them back again. The temple is huge, very silent and beautiful. Lots of people have asked me since being in India and China how I coped with the crowds. There are places where the crowds are intense but they can be avoided. Old Delhi has lots of people so leave it out, The streets of the Spiritual Walk of Pushkar were really crowded but you only had to use a parralell street one over and you were practically by yourself and without the merchants and touts on the 'tourist streets' The Bahi temple had lots of people but like Delhi traffic - it all worked, moving well and easy, not pushy and I felt very safe

From there I caught a three wheeler to the Peace Festival. Most of the drivers are illiterate and I only had a newspaper cutting advertising the event. The driver asked around for directions and we did get there eventually. I was holding my camera outside the 3-wheeler and when the driver realized this he laughed, and drove like a mad thing and through places that I am sure was more for the camera that the direct route. Rides in three wheelers were a highlight for me in Delhi - totally reccommended.

The Peace Festival was amazing and beyond my experience - full of flashing lights, white robes and animations, the biggest was a huge (his foot was taller that me) - man lying on the ground and being poked at in all sorts of places with all sorts of weapons by animated life sized men. Eventually this man sits up and makes a noise and then lies down and it all starts again. I guess I know who it was and what it was about but the absence of local language really shows at times like this -cannot read the signs and no-one to ask. All the hosts whether human or the sets were exhorting all toward peace through meditation practices.

There was only three wheelers outside to take us back to the hotel. I, of course had not thought to bring an address card and Hotel Rahul Palace meant very little any one there. I knew to say Karol Barg which is a bit like saying Stirling Highway and one man said he would take me. I was doing ok recognizing landmarks and nearly there when he would not turn right so I had no idea where we were after that. Finally got to the right spot and after showing me to the porters standing at the hotel to ensure that I was at the correct place - whatever he said next caused them all to fall about laughing. I learned to always know where I am staying and take a card and know how to say the address. Maps just don’t do it in India. First day and about to tour old deli when advised not to by Intrepid Central as it was the day before the start of the 3 day strike against the Govt. ‘sealing’ which is shutting down all the shops/stores/stalls etc that are not licensed to operate as such – especially if they are in areas zoned residential. I imagine that this is a gigantic change from the norm in India and is causing strife, folk are having their traditional earning methods just chopped away however, it is going ahead. We were advised to stay away from the markets and tourist spots. There were lots of soldiers and we did not see any riots although we did read of various troubles in Delhi while we were on our trip.

Agra was the first stop = we reached it by train - I ate a little of the train food but was pretty careful in my selection It was a delicious vege-burger of some kind. Train was very efficient - even leaving a few minutes early as the seats were full. Took ages to get out of Delhi – town is big or they are all joined together. The smog level is huge to someone from Australia or NZ, however Delhians are very very sure that is getting clearer and the so called smog is in fact winter fog settling in - as a lot of the transport in Delhi is now using gas rather than diesel or petrol. It was wedding season in India and a bride, her groom and entourage shared the train with us.

Agra is incredibly dirty and the ground littered with rubbish. This is where I saw the most beggars and people selling trinkets. I could only think of exquisite when standing in front of the Taj Mahal - it was an ‘I am actually here moments’. We did have a view of the Taj from our hotel window but because of the smog again it was really only a glimpse of an outline when we arrived and nothing after that.

The other visit was to Agra's Red Fort, built by Emperor Akbar in the 16th Century. Although I was sweaty and manky it would be up there as one of the moments – It was totally planned before being built, had very intensive water catchments to collect the Monsoon rains – able to be cleanly stored and also used for heating and cooling the fort using systems of running the water behind the walls. Their technical innovation - especially in water conservation, moving the water and using it to keeping comfortable in the extremes of climate was a recurring theme in the forts and palaces throughout the whole trip. Possibly why systems have fallen behind these days is the lack of slaves, technicians and eunuchs to build and maintain systems.

In the evening a few of us visited the Government emporium and saw the most fantastic marble tables – all inlaid using jasper, lapis lazuli and malachite – thank goodness they weighed too much for a backpack.

Jaipur is for jewels – I wasted a bit of time shopping and took along Marnie from England to show me how to bargain – she was fabulous – and I learned that you have to know what you want to pay and then stick to that – be prepared to not want it so much that you cannot walk away. I bought my Rajasthan souvenir - a pendant.

We visited Amber fort – the trip out there was my undoing - the fumes got to me so much and I had a persistent cough from there on until leaving India – as did the rest of the group eventually. Tourist sites we visited were the Jantar Mantar Astronomy park, built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in the 18th Century, the City Palace and the Palace of the Winds. Tourist sites we visited were the Jantar Mantar Astronomy park, built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in the 18th Century, the City Palace and the Palace of the Winds, I did not take an elephant ride but it’s a big part of what you can do at the Amber Fort. I think it was Jaipur that we saw a Bollywood movie in the most ornate movie house I have ever been in. Just the setting was worth and although in Hindi we think as a group we managed to get the gist of the various plots in it. It featured the Don – more John Travolta than John Wayne but the locals love him and he features on heaps of advertising. Lots of folks answered mobiles and had loud conversations during the movie without any shushing from anyone else. Very live and let live - and it seems to work. Recommend spending time at Jantar Mantar and see the Red Fort with a guide - and most definately - see a movie.

Pushkar Camel Fair had lots of camels and horses, lots and lots of chanting, ohming, people, stalls and shops and rip off artists. Out hotel was abut 10-15 minutes out of town – but we still enjoyed a full day and night of worship noises. We were there towards the end of the animal trading, but at the full moon which is the prime time of bathing in Pushkar lake. Pushkar is one of the places that all Indians endeavor to get to in their lifetime. We rode camels into the desert and slept outdoors overnight. The man who holds the contract to host the camel trek has bought land and is restoring it by growing stuff organically over time. Currently he has Marigold flower crops and peanuts. He has a lot of long-term plans for the area, which gives local employment. Heaps of people have not received education in India and thus are not gong to leave the life they were born into. His way is to restore the fertility and productivity of the land and giving some employment to local boys. I doubt they are paid very much and Intrepid gives a tip and suggests that we match it, but our tip going directly to the boy leading our own camel. My camel's name was Julie and camel leader was Suden. Everywhere we were we saw workers who slept at the place of work in a small corner or on the roof or somewhere. We saw people washing on the side the street everywhere and teeth cleaning seem to be a national occupation. On the last day of the fair the programme included all sorts of festivities and camel races and so on - but not open to the hoi poloi - anyone of us could just walk in but locals seemed to be excluded - as shown in the photo of boys in the tree looking in

Next was the contrast of Udaipur. This was our Intrepid guides hometown. Out hotel was on directly on the water of Lake Piccola. After the morning call to prayer at 5.40am the sound of clothes being washed/slapped on the paving on the other side of the lake was our wake up call. Here we were offered cooking lessons – but I missed mine as I was looking at the Nehru island which is a sort of manufactured park on the lake. I was the only one ready to go back and I got to ride in a boat shaped like a swan - it went at Swan speed and I think it was made for a romantic trip of the lake and I did feel a little foolish being the only one in there at the disembarking spot.

Monsoon Palace in Udaipur is a famous spot to watch the sunsets from. I was there amongst the crowd and watched the red ball in a dark blue smoggy skyline slip behind the mountain and heard people ahhing in wonderment….. - and I realized that there must be a generation or two of people all over the world who have never seen the sun reflecting on clouds or coloring bush on Mountains. The red ball dropping out of the sky is the only subset that they know.

From the beautiful hotel in we took a local bus to get to Jodhpur. I have never really been a public transport person and so practiced in Perth and lived it in India and China. I don’t mind too much the continuing honking of horns – after Delhi I realize that it’s a way to drive to keep safe – however there are noises and noises, and the horn noise on this bus was just a little too much for the long journey. As we drove into the terminus I could see head bobbing up at the windows. We found that they belonged to the three-wheeler drivers, spying out who was on the bus and staking their claim to “their tourists”. All through Rajasthan we heard that it had been a poor year for tourist income – and when our guide allocated two of us to another vehicle the driver who had staked his claim to one of us really lost his temper and shouted and shook the lucky driver – only time I saw anything like that in India but it was a horrible moment in time. The time in Jodphur continued much like that, the hotel was sad, the food was sad. Once again the fort was amazing, we saw the market briefly as we went on group to enjoy the Makhani Lassi – mango lassi which is famous in Jodphur – it was the only lassi I had in India as I was following all the rules to stay Delhi Belly free – and it was delicious and suffered no ill effects – in fact our entire group stayed Delhi Belly free all through India. Mike and Greeta had Jodphurs made there and went for a horse ride.

We took a train to Jaisalamer – it was our last city in Rajasthan - one again a city with a fort although this time the city was to a greater extent within the fort. The hotel we stayed in was part of a former Haveli and I learned that Purdah was a way a life – not just costume and attitude. Not for me I think. Probably the best thing was the trip to Lake Gadi Sagar and then onto Badi Badi the Royal Cemetery. I went out there with Frank and Lorraine from Australia …. and we were blown away by the serenity. Once again the fort was wonderful

We got a train back to Delhi and I stayed at Hotel Sunstar residency – and then went to Rishikesh next day – only 200 or so kms but took all day to get there cos’ of the roads and then traffic. It was really foggy/smoggy/ (polluted) all the way there and back, though did see a hint of a blue sky while sitting at the head of the Ganga. The driver who was also a tour guide spoke very little English and I don’t think was too happy with one old single female as a passenger. He only wanted to show me temples and really only could point to them and say temple – not really about history, who the temple was dedicated to and so on. We did see the Aarti at Hardiware – (the driver was a little nervous letting me amongst the crowd by myself but the alternative was to leave the car parked and he was not too keen on that) which was pretty amazing. For me it was this whole ceremony being part of a life and lifetime – and here it happens every night. I took part in the same at Rishikesh – this time watching the sun go down, being part of the music and swaying crowd, buying a candle and flower boat and sending it down the Ganga. This was the most luxurious hotel I had been in so far, the driver had a small cottage outside - sort of very colonial.

Next day the driver was fairly insistent that I hire a guide. Well muggins me I did – and he took me to …. temples – and then to the ….shops. I needed to use the Internet and so we went to the yoga centre where you can use it for 10INR per hour I was only on for less than five minutes – and th Yoga people charged me 20 INR. I was so disappointed, even in the Yoga centre - the need to rip people off in India is just so embedded. Tears trickled out of me – just because there was nowhere in India that I found that people lived the spirituality - it was used over and over again to make money. Maybe I would do the same thing in the same situation – I don’t know but there are so many temples being built, so many swamis on the road, and all want your rupees. But no honestly, no integrity is associated with it for me. After the last fight in one shop where the guide had taken me, even though I kept insisting that I did not want to buy anything, the shopkeeper kept showing me stuff and I did not want to buy it – he finally threw it down and stopped off – obviously not happy I wasted his time. I told the guide to go away and leave me after paying him his 100 rupees, and my views so far on this aspect of India. I think he took it that I was upset over 10 rupees – he did not get my big picture. Later on as I was getting near the car again the guide popped out of a narrow crack in a building and wanted to show me necklaces to buy - unbelievable

On the trip home the driver started stopping at temples again but after one that was more like a play centre (you had to crawl through a little tunnel at one part to get to the next part and there was no way to go back and avoid going in the tunnel) enough was enough. I wanted to see the Ganga again but he said it was too far away. I walked to what I thought was the right direction anyway over an embankment and wow - a gathering of little concrete caves, sculptured to look like they were parts of a tree trunk and inhabited by saffron clad folks. A man in white came along and asked if I woudl like to go to the Ganga - and to follow him. It was one of the other world places and other world experiences - I paddled in the freezing Ganga again and no one asked me for money - just smiled and let me gaze around and then go.

So on this trip I learned:

Shopping is a cultural norm. I am used to thinking I might need something, looking as them all comparing price and so on and then choosing one and paying for it; In both India and China you are only buying things that you need – so you know how much you can pay. First you go into the shop you are going to buy from, you look at however many are to be considered and th rest are discarded. Aspects of quality are discussed until the item to be purchased is identified and then the price is negotiated. I found this learning curve one of the hardest and use to break out into a sweat and often run out as I could not bear the responsibility of deciding something before I knew the price. Probably get over that once I understand the ball park figures that the prices are likely to be.

I am not sure who is responsible but somehow temples are being, built, rebuilt or OTT embellished it seems for our viewing pleasure and the devotees income gathering. It's a shame that this art and craft is not simply being put into galleries. Being part of temples makes me, as a traveller cynical and resentful - I want to take in the handiworks, but not when it is in the guise of traditional worship.

I don’t like being with just me and a driver and not particularly fussed going anywhere with a guide.

I don’t need to wash my hair everyday .

I need to look carefully every time I leave somewhere as it’s a pain to keep losing things.

Being ripped off by the Brahmas in Pushkar and then always being asked for money by various swamis sort of put me off priestly races in general

Next I went to China.