Monday, November 28, 2005

Goa & Kerela: Since Pushkar I have traveled many kilometres and seem so many things - Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples, palaces of Maharajas that once ruled, massive forts perched on top of hills that reflect the strength of its warrior builders. And I spend hours in a bus looking at the country side and its people. It is such a magical place.

Udiapur is a city in the western state of Rajasthan. It is so romantic with "misty ochre-shadowed hills and pale, intricate buildings which encircle a small lake. At the lake's centre is the mythical Lake Palace - by day a wedding cake dreamed up by feverish imagination, by night a spot lit mothership". It is definitely a city worth visiting.

I visited Ajanta and Ellora caves near Aurangabad. These caves are literally hammered monuments out of rock in remote areas of the state. They were done 1000 to 1500 years ago by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks. What wonders they are.

Leaving Rajasthan we flew to Mumbai and then hopped down to the state of Goa which is party central. It's on the west coast of India and has over 100 km of beautiful beaches. The sand feels like corn starch under my feet and the Arabian Sea is like a warm bath. We practiced yoga in the sand at sunrise, went for long walks and sat in thatched beach huts drinking beer, eating fresh fish for just cents and watch the most incredible sunsets. Truly bliss.

Further south is the state of Kerela. I've really entered the tropics where heat and humidity can beat you down quickly. This is winter and the average temp. is 28 degrees Celsius. Summer or monsoon time would be unimaginable - even having survived Toronto's heat this past summer does not prepare you. The Kerela people are the best looking in India I think, which wonderful smiles and a gentle manner. Their government is more socialist than other states and so infastructure and social services are much better and the people really benefit. They have 100% literacy and are very well educated. I stayed overnight on a rice barge converted into a houseboat. We cruised the many canals, just south of the city of Kochi. A very romantic moment. I also got a great motorcycle ride in Kochi which was so much fun. The driving everywhere in India is chaotic and madness. There are no rules. Motorcycles or scooters are more often the family car and you see mother, father and 2 on 3 kids all perched on a small bike, no helmets, weaving in and out of traffic. I only had to share the bike with one person, so consider myself lucky.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pushkar Camel Fair: It seems like I have been here for ever. It's been hard to get to Internet places. However, let me tell you about Pushkar. It is a small town in the state of Rajasthan which is in the north west of India. Very arid and desert like. The Camel Fair happens once a year in November, the six days leading up to the full moon. This is a massive congregation of camels, cattle, livestock traders, pilgrims, tourists, film makers, the weird and strange. We stayed in a tent just 1 Km outside the town as there is no room in the inn. Truly the place swells from 20,000 to 250,000. All the tribes in the area come here to buy and sell camels, plus other animals. They camp in the desert. There is a midway with rides and street hawkers. The traffic is madness with camel carts, motor scooters, cars, buses with people crammed in so tight you can't get a piece of straw between them and then there are about 50 on top of the bus. It reminds me of a cross between the CNE and the Royal Winter Fair. It is hot during the day. 35 degrees celcius. But, a dry heat (ha!). At night it is very cold. Staying in a tent is challenging for some, but having done enough camping in my life it's okay by me. Besides, I have a flush toilet in it (although it disposes of its contents in an open hole dug in the sand at the back of my tent) and a coolie brings hot water in a bucket at 6:00 a.m. I jump out of bed and plunge my hands in the water to warm up.

The town of Pushkar surrounds a "lake". Something I would call a big pond. Because it is a very holy site, the pilgrims come to bath in it in the morning and I got up very early to walk into town and visit the ghats (steps down to water) and watch. No photography is allowed. Also, Pushkar is completely vegetarian and no alcohol. In spite of this the town knows how to party and the last night it did so all night long and into the moring. I could hear the roar of the people and traffic from my bed in the tent which is 1 Km away. The walk about town gives way to the weird as every stange and deformed person from anywhere shows up to display themself on the street and draw a crowd. Cows with legs growing out of their necks, men with whiskers they have grown 6 feet long, magicians, holy men who will bless you (for a price), deformed people who beg along the side of the narrow streets and so many pilgrims making their way to the many shrines. It is like something out of a Fellini film.

As of today I am in a city called Udaipur which is further west and it seems to be quite nice. Tomorrow we'll go out to explore it.