Pretty in Pink

I’m finally in Rajasthan, where I’ve wanted to visit since I returned from my last India trip. I love the architecture here, and the surrounding hills are lovely. 

I arrived in the evening at the Rani Hahal hotel. Of course the rickshaw wallah tried to get me into a different hotel (where he would get a hefty commission), but sometimes, having reservations can be handy. The Rani Mahal is a beautiful building with spacious, clean rooms decorated in typical Rajasthan style. It’s a bit far from the center of town, but I was happy with it nonetheless.

My room an the Rani

The next day I hired a driver for the day through the hotel. It was pouring rain and I didn’t feel like getting soaked in a rickshaw. So we headed off first to the Birla/ Laxmi Narayan Mandir. The Mandir is a beautiful Hindu temple constructed with white marble, with intricate carvings. From the outside, the temple doesn’t look that large, but the inside is cavernous. It’s not exactly an ancient building though, as it was constructed in 1988.

Laxmi Narayan Mandir

Next up was the Albert Hall museum. This building was an interesting mix of Rajput and English architecture, and inside was an equally interesting assortment of carpets, paintings, sculptures and textiles. They were really nice to look at, but in large quantities, my interest wanes.

Yup. That pretty much says it all.

Afterwards I went into the gates of the old city. In 1876, the ruling maharaja had the whole city painted pink in preparation of a visit by the prince of Wales (I found no reference as to why pink and not some other color). Homeowners associations may not exist here, but everyone in the old city still has one choice for exterior paint color: pink.

Within the city walls are the Jantar Mantar, the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and several bazaars. The Jantar Mantar is a group of astronomical structures/instruments built by Jai Singh, a local ruler, in 1728. Apparently he was so into astronomy that he built five of these collections throughout northern India.

Jantar Mantar structure

The City Palace was also built by Jai Singh and has been built upon over the years. It remains the residence of the Singh royal family, and their quarters are blocked off. There’s still plenty to see in terms of stately architecture and museum items.

Palace gate. Girl not included.
“None shall pass!”

I looked in the old city for the Hawa Mahal, but couldn’t find it to save my life. Or a nearby restaurant that looked good. In defeat, I returned to the car and driver and had a late lunch without seeing the Hawa. But I think I saw a good amount without it, and was satisfied at the end of the day.

After lunch we stopped at the Jal Mahal, or water palace. It was a summer home for the royal family, in the middle of a scenic lake with a beautiful backdrop. And closed to visitors.

Last stop was Amber (pronounced “Am-mer”) fort. Amber fort is a majestic mix of yellow and pink sandstone with white marble. This was really the crown jewel of Jaipur for me. Grand courtyards, towering walls, giant doorways, inlaid stone artwork, and spectacular views made it definitely worth the trip.

Fear and Non-Loathing in India

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Do something every day that scares you”. I would say I’m definitely doing that, just by being here.
What am I afraid of?
Bodily harm. Being robbed. Killed. Gang-raped. Or all of these at once.

Coming down with some multiple drug resistant illness, or something like chikungunya.

And there’s also a lesser fear – more of an underlying wariness really, of being ripped off or overcharged for things. 
Other than being careful about when or where I roam, there’s not much I can do about the first things, and aside from being moderately cautious about my health and eating habits, I have equally little control about the next. 
As for being overcharged, well, even if I’m overcharged a dollar or two more for something just for being a tourist, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? To me, not really. And to someone who is struggling to survive, that charity may make a huge difference.

These fears aren’t something that keep me up at night, and they certainly haven’t stopped me from coming here. Knowing that I have little control over these things helps me to relax to a degree. As a teacher once said “Don’t worry. Everything is perfectly out of control”. Yet I would be lying if I said that the fears didn’t exist.
With each day, and with each time that I do something that brings that fear upwards in my consciousness, the smaller that fear becomes. There is still a great deal of goodness in the world that the media ignores. I have already seen so much kindness and generosity during this’s trip, and have faith that it will continue as I go onward. The media ignores this goodness to a large extent, and we’re encouraged on a daily basis to be afraid. Part of my hope for this trip is to continue whittling away at that fear. I’ll let you know how that goes, if it’s not apparent at the end.

I made it to Jaipur tonight a bit late to do any exploring, but I’ll post more colorful, exciting things next time.

And cockroaches. Definitely cockroaches.

Disconnected in Delhi

When planning this trip, I decided that while in India I’d treat myself to a nice hotel once a month instead of the backpacker/budget accomodations that I usually go for. And since the budget places in Delhi seem to be on the sketchy side, I decided this was the place. 

In the US, $80/night gets you a wide range of hotels, from the dingy dump to a nice, comfortable, yet generic place. Here, it got a very nice hotel. Ritzy, schnazzy, hoighty-toighty, whatever you want to call it, this was it.

Upon arrival they took my luggage through an X-ray machine and then brought it to my room. The lobby had dance/”uncha-uncha” music playing and was quite sleek and modern. My room was spacious and plush, and the bathroom had a tub large enough to throw a party in (well, a few people anyway). I took advantage of the bath despite the hot and humid weather. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for being in hot water. The room also came with an incredible breakfast buffet including continental and Indian dishes.

I must admit it felt odd to be in such luxury in the midst of poverty around me, and I’m still keeping it in my mind to think about. I will say that this body appreciated it. The first day that I planned to go out, my body said “Yeah, no. Not going to do that”. Since I had been dealing with stomach issues the last few days, I listened, and rested the whole day. It made a world of difference, and the next day I had energy to walk all over town.

The hotel is on the very outskirts of town, but near the Delhi metro. Delhi’s metro is awesome. It’s like the London Underground, only cheaper. They even say “Please mind the gap”. For less than $5, I got a three day pass that took me anywhere in town. The cars are clean, air conditioned, and they even have separate cars for women, which is nice when things get crowded.

So the first day I walked through Chandni Chowk, a major shopping street, to the Red Fort. Built by Shah Jahan in 1638 to 1648, the Red Fort is a magnificent example of Mughal architecture. It’s’ built of red sandstone and marble, with pietra dura stone inlays and intricate carvings. An easy place to spend a few hours. Afterwards I walked by the main Mosque, the Jama Masjid, and through Chowri bazaar, a street with stationery shops covered in grime, electrical wiring, and lots of people. Not something I’d do at night time.

Lahore Gate of the Red Fort
Photobomb by pigeon and chipmunk
Closeup of stone inlay

I went further by metro to the Janpath area of town to visit the National museum and the Gandhi Smirti. Sadly, the Gandhi smirti was closed for some reason, but the national museum was an interesting trip.

Today I went to the Qutub Minar complex. The first buildings in the complex were created by ancient Mehrauli sultans, and then later rulers built the rest. The large tower, the Qutb Minar, was started in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din. Unfortunately he never got to see its completion, as he was impaled during a polo match. Later rulers finished the construction with the tower topping 73 meters in height.

After wandering around such beautiful structures, I decided to make that my last tourist stop. Fatigue was lifting its head again, and I didn’t see how visiting more buildings would have been more enjoyable. So I called it good, stopped on an errand, and went back to the hotel.
The errand is a long story in the search for getting a local SIM card for my iPhone. Let’s just say it hasn’t been successful, and I am without a working phone. But I have had wifi at the hotels, and in some ways, it’s not so bad to not have connectivity 24/7. So I remain disconnected – sort of.

As one last note, I’m putting in a charity plug. One of the things I’ve noticed is that my observations about the trash here may not have been correct. It seems that plastic water bottles don’t get recycled as much as I thought. I see them everywhere. Of course the problem is multi factorial, but between seeing the bottles and suffering ill effects from questionable sources, I really see how important clean water is for so many in the world. I found an organization trying to change this, so I’m putting in a plug for them. I get nothing out of it, other than knowing more people may have access to clean water. So here’s my fundraising campaign, contribute if you’d like.

See you next time from Jaipur!


From Rishikesh I took a shared rickshaw to Hardiwar. The couple I was sharing the rickshaw with were going to another location there, so the driver arranged for me to get in to a very shared vikram for the last bit of the trip. To those that don’t know, an auto rickshaw is sort of like a golf cart with the body from a tilt-a-whirl instead. There are larger shared ones called vikrams, which have three benches: one for the driver and two behind facing each other for the passengers. Apparently it’s possible to fit at least fourteen people in one vikram. Maybe more if the people know each other, we did not.

I arrived at the train station and people-watched for a while since my train was scheduled for a few hours later. While waiting, a family that was sitting nearby “adopted” me. They offered me some chai, then some biscuits, and the son-in-law spoke with me mostly, although I managed some meager conversation in Hindi. The family was a couple maybe my age, and their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild. The mother had the kindest face, and they were all very sweet and helpful. Another advantage to traveling alone is that you’re much more likely to be spoken to than when traveling in a group.

The train was a “sleeper”: An overnight train on which you get an open bunk with some sheets, pillow, and blanket. Sleep, however, is not something you get much of, as the bunks are hard, and you’re in a cabin filled with lots of people who invariably snore.

I arrived in Amritsar and found a reasonable hotel, and rested for a bit. My main purpose in coming to Amritsar had been to see the Golden Temple and Jallianwalla bagh. The Golden Temple is the most venerated temple of the Sikh faith, housing their scriptures, the Adi Granth. It’s actually part of a large compound with several buildings, in which the main temple sits in the center of a large pool of water, connected by a bridge. There is a museum, hostel, and a community kitchen that feeds the 100,000 visitors that come on a daily basis, free of charge. I had read about the temple and seen it in films, and although the actual experience was a bit different, no less satisfying.

Here’s a great Bollywood film clip of a visit the temple.

Here’s a link to my experience.

And the best photo I got:

I went first on a Sunday, which was pretty crowded. But when I returned the next morning, there were fewer people, yet the sense of devotion was just as powerful.

Another powerful visit was to Jallianwalla Bagh. During the struggle for India’s independence from England, several thousand men, women, and children had met for an observance in a large courtyard in Amritsar. General Dwyer ordered troops to assemble in and block the exit points and then ordered the troops to open fire on the peaceful group. Many tried to climb the walls or jump in a deep well to avoid the volley of bullets which lasted for ten minutes. After the munition was expended, the official count was nearly 400 dead and over 1400 injured. Now the courtyard is a peaceful park commemorating this senseless tragedy.

The white squares surround the bullet holes in the wall
The well people jumped into to avoid being shot…and where they were shot anyway. You can see bullet marks and old blood here.
Another tragic wall

My last tourist attraction was the border ceremony. Amritsar is about 30km from the India-Pakistan border, and each day the border closing is enacted with much fanfare. It’s a well-attended event by tourists and locals, at least on India’s side. So I and 9 other tourists climbed into an suv taxi, rode for nearly an hour and then walked through numerous security checks to get to the open seating near the border gate. The ceremony started with women volunteers running up the road to the gate with flags, and running back. Patriotic songs started playing over the loudspeakers, and women started dancing in the road. Even western women from the audience joined in, and I thought, “Looks like fun, I’d love to do that”. I stayed put for a few minutes until I realized that staying back would be something I’d regret later. And the next thing I knew, I was dancing along with about fifty women in front of thousands of people in 95 degree heat. It was a surprise even to me, but a lot of fun, and there was a sort of sisterhood between us women that felt quite sweet.

When in Amritsar…..

Next was the marching. With great pomp and posturing, the guards on both sides took turns high-stepping to the gate and making exaggerated stances of might on their respective sides, lowered their flags and slammed their gates shut. Sure, a lot of it is for show, but I’m pretty sure the assault rifles that the soldiers carried were very real.

And a funny YouTube video of the ceremony. This is much better than what I got with my little camera from the nosebleed section in the stands.

I haven’t said much about the food here yet. There’s been no shortage to talk about, although recently my appetite has been less than usual. Goddess Kali has been poking me in the belly saying “Don’t think I’ve forgotten you. We will meet before you leave.” But I did manage a Punjabi specialty that is definitely worth sharing.

Kulcha is a flat bread with a hidden filling. It can be potatoes, cheese, onions or spices alone. The bread is rolled out with the filling inside, and then cooked in a little bit of oil, served with a lentil sauce, an onion sauce, and a heavenly splat of ghee on top. Oh my goodness. I went to the Kulcha walla section of Amritsar and saw this hole-in-the-wall place that had people in it (people eating are a good sign). The mixed kulcha had all of the fillings, and one heavenly kulcha was less than $1.00. You can’t beat that with a stick.

“Why do I get the feeling I’ll regret this?”
OMG. So worth it. And I didn’t even suffer for it later.


I’m now in Delhi, chilling out in a schnazzy hotel with great internet, but that story is for my next post. Be well and happy, dear readers!

Yogi going onwards

Today after one last yoga class I’ll slowly make my way to Amritsar.

I seriously considered staying here longer, but there are other places I really want to visit on this trip.

I realize that my initial report wasn’t glowing, but the town has really grown on me. The people here have been very friendly and helpful, the surrounding landscape is quite beautiful, and there is a spiritual vibe here that one can sense once one settles down long enough to notice. Staying here has helped me do that.  Two yoga classes a day have helped this body become more flexible, and spending time just watching the Ganges river flow by has been great for the mind.

I’ve been told the best time to come is in the early spring, and I have to admit that coming back here for further yoga training at some point in the future sounds pretty appealing.

But for now I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Monkey mayhem

Another amazing sunset

Rishikesh at night

Watching the river run

Avoiding the void

The rain has stopped, leaving the air a little cooler and misty clouds drifting over the forested hills. Monkeys make their way on rooftop railings to observe their domain. Families splash in the water at the ghat (steps going down to the river) next door. Pujas sound from loudspeakers across the river and horns honk steadily from nearby roadways. A procession of locals and tourists alike walk to and fro across the Lakshman Jhula bridge. The mighty Ganga flows through all this activity, like time, waiting for no one.

And I sit on my balcony, watching it all.

I’ve been here in Rishikesh for a few days now, visiting restaurants, looking in a few shops, and going to yoga classes. I’ve developed a schedule of sorts, and in the heat of the day I’ve also been reading, sending emails (when Internet is available), napping, and otherwise killing time.

Some of this latter activity has been necessary as this body adjusts to the monsoon climate, and I’m not beating myself up over it. But take away the ability to walk for miles or to be engaged in any long-term activity, and I’m faced with….the void. 

We’ve all got it. The itch to do something, anything, versus be with our own mind. That roommate that never shuts up. The yearning for more: having more, seeing more, doing more. And I’ve realized I’ve been avoiding it instead of just being with it. Taking time to just be.

It’s going to be hot and humid wherever I go. I was going to go to Shimla or Mussoorie next, but I’ve settled into a rhythm here. My room costs less than $10 a day, two yoga classes less than $7, and food less than $10. The room isn’t the greatest I’ve stayed in, has no AC, but this balcony view is priceless. The first day I got here I was ready to go, but perhaps now my clock is being reset to Rishikesh time. Eventually I’ll move on, but for right now I think Rishikesh may be as good a place as any to slow down and just be for a while. 
Me and the void.

Ah, that’s the India I remember

I said goodbye to my friends in Delhi, and took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi driver had been asked to help me find a bus to Rishikesh, but little did we know that there’s a system in place: one usually takes an AC bus to Haridwar, then catches another bus to Rishikesh, an hour away. Unarmed with such info, I ended up on an old, non-air conditioned, crowded public bus for the seven hour ride to Rishikesh. Well, I did want the experience of India.

The bus idled at the station until the driver felt there were enough people to make it worth his time. We pulled out and crawled eastward out of Delhi traffic at an inchworm’s pace until we reached Ghaziabad. After squeezing through, traffic opened up a little bit, and more greenery appeared by the side of the road, increasing as we headed north until we got to Haridwar. 

Here are some of the things one sees on a north Indian road trip:

Punjabi dhabas: the original McDonald’s, Indian style, at which one can expect to find tea, biscuits (cookies or crackers), bottled water, and all manner of Indian snacks and fried food. There are probably millions of dhabas in existence.

Houses in varying states, ranging from palatial to merely consisting of a tarp stretched over poles, all mixed higglety-pigglety with stores.

Cows, donkeys, chickens, goats and dogs. 

Trash thrown about. There are no collection bins to speak of, yet there is a system, as the loose garbage provides food for the wandering animals, and a livelihood for those who go through it for recycling, cloth, metal, etc.. Garbage processing happens in India , it just isn’t hidden away like it is in the west.

Oh, and of course, the thousands of buses, lorries, cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians all with somewhere to go.

So add plenty of dust, the smell of burning things, open toilets and who knows what else, and plenty of honking, and you have the basic North Indian driving experience.

Having done that on a crowded, vibrating bus for seven hours, I disembarked in Rishikesh with my luggage, 85*F temperatures, and 95% humidity. I soon felt like a used washcloth, and after walking for about a half hour, waved the white flag and hired a rickshaw. Since I never would have found the hotel I was looking for, and it was up on a hill, I’m glad I did. It was definitely worth the $1.20 I paid. 

The town of Rishikesh itself is a bit run down, dirty and crowded. The nearby Lakshman Jhula area just north of Rishikesh, is nestled between the banks of the Ganges and forested hills. It holds most of the ashrams and is slightly more appealing, but still has a little bit of a seedy aspect to it. I tried a hotel on the first night, and the Shri Sant Seva ashram the next. My rooms at both places were pretty sparse and the bathrooms were a bit dingy. But my room at the ashram is right next to the river, and if I jumped over my balcony railing, I could go swimming (I wont). I was looking at how to move on at first, but after spending the first day recuperating from running around in the heat with luggage, I feel much better and think I’ll stay for a while. 

My room at the ashram

The bathroom. eek.

But check out these views!

Yup. Its the monsoon season.

So long, Ladakh

Our original plan of going to Pangong lake came to a screeching halt when the bridge to that area collapsed. Pangong is renowned for being a very beautiful place and is featured in many movies. It would have been nice to see, but travel is like this. One has to be content with changes in the plan.

 So we went to castles and various other monasteries over the last two days. All of these places are set high up on hills, and bestow wonderful views on those who make the upward effort to visit them. Most of the monasteries prohibit photography inside, but the views outside make up for it. The architecture is quite unique, and I found myself fascinated by the various doorways.

I’m afraid I focused more on just exploring these various places than reading or remembering much of the history. Now that I’m back in Delhi, the Internet is a bit faster, so I can share a few more pictures of the beautiful places I visited.

Tomorrow I’ll part with my Bengali family who have been traveling with me, and venture out by bus to Rishikesh on my own. The adventure continues.

Bumpity bumpity bump

Yesterday we went over Khardung La pass to the Nubra Valley. Khardungla is the highest motorable pass in the world, peaking at 18,380feet. I was surprised to find at least a portion of it was paved, but as we neared the top, the pavement ended and the road became dirt with rocks of varying sizes. Once again, our driver expertly managed hairpin turns and blind curves on a single lane road with minimal if any guard rails to stop a vehicle from plummeting into the abyss. Add lorries, cars and motorbikes whizzing in every direction, rockslides in various state of repairs, and the odd cow wandering about, and you’ll have a vague idea of what it was like. And don’t forget the dust. Picture being on an old roller coaster. For several hours. At one point our vehicle got stuck, and our driver had to get out and arrange rocks under the wheel to get us out. It was definitely a wild ride, but fun in a twisted, adventurous way.

I had to admire the motorcyclists crossing the pass. I can imagine it would be great fun, yet for me it would be a short ride into my next life, as I’ve only ridden on the back of a motorcycle as a kid. The folks that truly amazed be were the handful of bicyclists that were crossing the pass. I can’t even imagine the stamina needed to do it. Or the cojones.

As we got out on top of the pass, I could definitely feel the heady, dizzying sensation of being oxygen deprived, but the views were worth it.

We arrived at Diskit monastery where we had lunch and then climbed the stairs to a giant Buddha rupa (statue). The views over the Nubra valley where the monastery sits high on a hill were vast and breathtaking. I know I’ve been using that word a lot, but this is some incredibly beautiful country, and everywhere I go, I am just amazed.

I climbed the stairs of the monastery to the temple on my own, as there were a lot of them. Many of the buildings appeared to be rooms for the monks. Lots of up and down for them, but what views. The temple at the top was a peaceful place to watch the breath – or lack thereof.

In the evening we went out for a short camel ride on Bactrian (two humped) camels native to the region. When returning over the pass the next day, I was thankful we had not ridden for a longer period of time. Fifteen minutes was enough for the experience, and I’m sure the camels appreciated the shorter ride as well. There were baby camels there as well who were very curious, and as I put my face forward in a proper camelid greeting, I got a gentle nose bump from one of them.

We stayed last night in yurts to complete the experience, and I have to say these were much better insulated than ones I’ve been in before. Definitely not the cold, windy and noisy experience that I expected.

I’d like to give a shout out to our driver Rigzen from Omasila hotel in Leh. He’s been driving tours for 13 years, and he’s awesome. I would definitely recommend him and the hotel to anyone interested. And they’re not paying me to say it either!-)

The Internet at the hotel, however, leaves much to be desired. Sorry for the lack of photos on this post.

Tomorrow we may be off to Pangong lake, depending on road conditions. I’ll post again when I can get reliable internet, but it’s very unsure. Be well everyone!


After an adventurous flight, I arrived intact in Delhi. 

The last time I went to India, I had lunch with some friends at an Indian restaurant, and became suddenly ill at the end of the meal. Emerging from the bathroom 45 minutes later, I told my friends, “I’ve got Delhi belly, and I’m not even in India yet!” Yet the event seemed to cast a protective spell over the trip in terms of gastrointestinal fortune. While on the flight, I had a similar but shorter episode. I’m hoping it’s my good luck charm. In Ajahn Sucitto’s book “Rude Awakenings”, he refers to having such episodes as meeting the goddess Kali, who gets her say about visiting India. So Kali and I have definitely had a meeting, and I imagine we’ll be chums by the end of this trip.

I met my friends in Delhi, and we flew to Leh the next morning. It took two approaches to land within the lunar landscape. Tall, stark mountains surrounded us with snow covered peaks in the distance. The valley, an oasis of grass and green trees, provided a striking contrast. We were escorted to a lovely hotel (part of a package tour that my friend arranged) and advised to take rest to adjust to the breathless altitude of 10,000 feet. I could definitely feel it while climbing the stairs.

Ladakhi building

The local greeting is “Julley” (pronounced Joo-lay), which serves for hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. All of the Ladakhi people seem very friendly, and are easy to speak with. Most seem to speak Ladakhi, Hindi, and English, so it’s easy to find common understanding.

In the evening we went to the marketplace in town to look around.

“Madam…madam…pashmina scarf, good price”. 

While the shops had a variety of beautiful things, I wasn’t ready to shop yet. I find the Indian shopping experience to be a bit intimidating. I don’t haggle well, and I’m not a fan of being swarmed by salesmen. I get used to it in a week or so, but I’m not there yet. What I did find though, was a Tibetan vihara with a temple. I ducked inside and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere that was better than any shopping experience.

The next day we headed northwest along National Highway 1. We stopped at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, a Sikh temple that has a boulder with the imprint of one of their teachers. When one visits a Sikh temple, one covers one’s head and removes one’s shoes, stepping through a shallow area of water to clean ones feet. Sikh devotional songs were playing, and tea was served to visitors. I’m hoping to visit the main Sikh temple in Amritsar in a few weeks, so this was an enjoyable preview.

Tea at the Gurudwara

 The roads are smoothly paved, yet have no shortage of overhanging (and sometimes falling) rocks and hairpin turns. Our driver negotiated it all with great skill, so that we could enjoy the scenery of lunar mountains and ribbons of green along the Indus River.

We continued on to Lamayuru monastery. Lamayuru monastery dates from a cave that was used by the Tibetan teacher naropa in the late 11th century. I’m not sure exactly when the buildings were constructed, but they blend into the landscape well. Tall, shallow buildings with flat roofs and ornate window frames, and whitewash walls that blend in with the rocky slopes they’re built upon. There were also caves, which looked like great places to meditate. Sadly, no accesss.


Today we returned from Ule and visited the Alchi and Thiksey monasteries. Thiksey resembles the Potala palace in Tibet, and both places are awash in intricate carvings, colorful wall paintings and low doorways. The view from Thicksey’s roof was incredible, and definitely worth climbing the stairs for.

It was quite tough to whittle through all the pictures I’ve taken in the last few days, and even tougher to upload them. Internet moves at a glacial pace here, so I’m afraid my visions of sharing lots of pictures on the road may not be a reality. I’ll end with a few more and try to add some later.