Saturday, March 25, 2006

Three Mexicans in India

India is not an easy place to get accustomed to; it comes with a culture shock that keeps on giving no matter how long a person is here and especially the more one travels the country. The more one travels the more one realizes that this unrelenting culture shock (often articulated as confusion) is the result of the country being absolutely wildly bereft of normalcy and predictability. It is because of this that the traveler is under constant (and occasionally…retrospectively, pleasant) bombardment of her senses such that the mind is engaged in an ongoing battle to try to Understand.

It is my opinion that, should India’s unfaltering stimulation persist unabated against the ill prepared mind, a person in this situation might very well decide the best course of action is to tie their sleeves behind their backs and head straight for the nuthouse. Because this is both unfashionable and awkward to blog about, people instead either flee the county or learn to adapt. This adaptation is a collaboration of the mind & body to raise its defenses and numb the experiences. This iss an invisible process of the unconscious to receive stimuli, store it, and ready for whatever comes next. Processing is only allowed when the world quiets down. It’s only when a new visitor visits and outwardly reacts to the visiting do I notice the “adapting” that my head has been working out.

Tiff (my sister) and Mike (her fella’/friend/my friend) arrived in Mumbai on the 29th of December just in time for New Years.

(see, they brought be loads of chocolate)
(A shout-out to my Pa for that as well)

There are the little things for the traveler to notice: like being on an international flight out of Germany and having the kitchen run out of vegetarian meals (India is home to approx. 70% of the world’s vegetarians…I find it unlikely that the Germans where wrestling for the last green salad). Once in the cities one is struck by the trademark smells to relish or recoil from, tastes aimed to target and explode on those few elemental divisions of the tongue, customs and driving habits to gawk at or narrowly avoid, sights and sounds to desperately capture on digital media, and unimaginable/inexcusable living conditions played out side-by-side by the animal and human poor.

Without exception, it is this poor that are most striking: striking in their dirt stained everything and popular abundance, striking in their sundry ailments, ages, and state of decay, and it is the poor of urban India that the mind and body of the foreigner works so hard to ignore.

In Mikes written journal, the poverty is the first thing he writes about, “there isn’t a homeless person in the States to compare”. He also mentions my practiced indifference to the people greeting us at the arrival gate with hands outstretched in need. I think of the practiced indifference Americans have for the elderly greetings shoppers at a Wal-Mart (I go into a place like that and these people frighten me! Why are they there? Instead of hearing, “Welcome to Wal-Mart” I hear, “30 years and this could be you, kid!” Boy, how’s that for motivation to work hard in pursuit of the American Dream. Surprised to find such reminders at the threshold of every Wal-Mart Consum-elot in the world? Anyway…) I begin to wonder, as Tiff and Mike are gaining sympathy for the unimaginably poor at the airport, how it is that I, and nearly everyone in this country, can appear so indifferent to the poor, the lepers lying in the streets, parents presenting to passer-bys children with disfigurements or wounds exposed, legless adults rolling about on cart no bigger than a squared skateboard –all in order to collect a few rupees. How can we continue to say “no” to their needs? Or another question: “What benefit will come from handing out the rupees?” I don’t have an answer, but I do have a rotten excuse: my pessimism has lead me into labeling nearly all impoverished beggars as part of a very real larger circle of mafia men owning street corners. These cannibals own the beggars that patrol the sidewalks, and 90% of the money the beggars receive each day. How does one justify handing over money to support such an industry? When you can’t justify it, it suddenly becomes hard to hand anyone a ten rupee note knowing nine of those rupees will go to a wealthy pimp and fuel a system that enslaves men, woman, and an overwhelming number of very young children to work the dangerous and polluted streets for as long as they may survive. These people are in need but each step is led by denial and we can move along the sidewalks despite the bodies.

Oiy, am I sounding bleak? Have I started this entry by painting Indian cities as unpleasant? If I have, know this: India is one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world; wealthy in both resources and history the people who live here are likely among the happiest and spiritually healthiest in the world; the sprawling urban slums are inhabited by content people who take care of one another despite the overwhelming obstacles they face as individuals each day. With the exceptions of the lone lepers or decrepitly overaged, the ones holding out their hands for a rupee are smiling and joking with themselves and their customers. The misery some wear on their faces is sometimes genuine but usually revealed as a ploy when they retreat to giggling hysteria back amongst friends.

Oiy again, that doesn’t sound so bad. But let’s not forget the 1 ½ - 2 million child prostitutes enslaved in the county. They’re not smiling. But we’re all well aware of such atrocities and they certainly aren’t specific to India (500,000 child prostitutes in Brazil, 200,000 in Nepal, and between 100,000-300,000 in the United States) and this conversation seems to be straying from the muddled subject of this blog. So, we’ll move on from such things just as our culture has taught us to do.

Gosh, where was I? Right! Telling of some of those quirky phenomena India offers the newcomer. An early-morning taxi from the airport back to our flat is another of Disney’s themed rollercoaster rides complete with a working cast, detailed set, and gut wrenching twists and turns that rightfully make the passengers of the cab fear for their safety. In the early hours of the morning ride home the “It’s a small world” characters are replaced by human figures tightly blanket-wrapped on every available sidewalk and maddeningly close to the road’s edge. Lying on the road, still warm from the previous day’s sun, cows, dogs, and donkeys tease the speeding automobiles as the ghosts do at the Haunted House. The cool and creepy “Pirates of the Caribbean” landscape is replaced by misty Raj-era homes buildings in every state of maintenance and decay gloating alongside cardboard shacks.

As the morning matures Tiff and Mike begin to notice the smells. The smells that India is famous for. It’s one of our 5+ senses we westerners have ceased to depend upon in life, but here the sense of smell is a guide as much as is sight and sound. You can smell them before you see or hear them: the shops and the supplies they sell, the rivers, sewers, slums, and restaurants. You might not recognize the smell at first: you approach the table of jelly sandals and then realize that you know exactly what a table full of those weird 80’s styled sandals smell like in the hot day’s sun. Next time, you don’t need your eyes to know where the next jelly sandal-stand is. Finding a fish market is easy and picking out a good restaurant is an olfactory exercise. Eyes are watering and throat is burning? Perhaps it’s best to change directions and avoid the chili pepper market. With each step comes a pocket of air with its own characteristics –some hasten your stride, others slow it…change your direction…seduce you into seeking out the source of those delightful spices.

(Ouch, chillies)

As I understand it, it’s Tiff’s policy to celebrate the start of each new year somewhere not United States. Perhaps derived from a mildly masochist personality, this little rule of hers tends to send her and Mike to places where firework celebrations mimic high-intensity urban warfare. Here in India firecrackers are referred to as “bombs” (not because the cracker merely goes “crack”, rather limb-amputatingly “kAbLooEE!”) And that is how we spent New Years 2006, not in the beach state of Goa like we planned, but on the rooftop and courtyard of my flat igniting quick-fused bombs simultaneously with 1.3 billion Indians around the country. It was, panoramically, quite a show that everything but my long-term hearing appreciated.

Where I lived we were riding the finest ride in the town: the this-is-what-it’s-like-to-make-up-the-entirety-of-a-minority-within-a-population-of-over-one-million ride and so we shopped in the New Year with silks, trinkets, and food. The feasting sprees are often things of legend around here and we pulled no punches in eating everything in sight.

Oh yeah, I forgot about this pre-2006 stuff: A three-hour local-train ride and a hired rickshaw for the afternoon took us to the village of Lonavala: famous for its chikki (sort-of an elaborate peanut brittle available in a stunning variety countless nuts and flavors). For the visitors that can break away from the sweets, a series of ancient Buddhists caves (some nearly 2000 years old and responsible for early growth of the religion) stand open to the elements (likely wondering where all the Buddhist have gone).

(Note #1: You may need to download Quicktime to see the Image above)
(Note #2: These quicktime images are scrolling pictures; mouse-click the images and scroll them from side to side)

The caves are quite a sight (and they had better be considering the effort to get to them) but as usual the most fun comes from the unexpected; in this case these bellyaches came from the frighteningly unmaintained Lonavala go-karts. Wow, they were the most amazing go-karts; sleek and low to the ground, designed with power to speed efficiency, all packaged with the comfort of the driver in mind –or so one would hope given the $2 price tag for four laps around the course. In reality the karts were threatening to disintegrate with each turn of the engine and the paved track was glazed with fresh gravel designed to knock teeth and eyes out of the driver if either is left open. Not being able to compete on performance, the shear pleasure the karts came from their unworldly decrepitness that induces their inability to drive straight and turn when asked. Lucky we had little plastic helmets.

As caves built hundreds of generations ago tend to get –somewhat less spectacular and more and more repetitive with each footstep into a cramped living quarter or attempt at new sounding echo from irregular hoots/hollers– we moved on from Lonavala back home for more Killer Bunnies and preparations for the train ride south to Goa.

Goa may be the smallest state in India though fashionably stretched skinnily along India’s south-western coast making it the most popular of states. If the city of Mumbai is burdened by tourist arriving, staying for one day, and leaving for the rest of India, then Goa is Mumbai’s opposite. The Portuguese who settled and ruled here were perhaps the first to recognize the tourist dollar potential that being so fashionable brings with it: in Goa tourists arrive, spend money, and stay awhile. Graced with its own international airport, tourists can now fly in to Goa and experience India in its entirety –provided of course that the tourist understands that India is rich in pubs, internet cafes, restaurants serving lasagna & falafel, beaches (lined by many of the afore mentioned restaurants, internet cafes, and pubs) where thongs (not the sandal version) worn by women are accepted and on aging men are…well, you know. Anything of the Indian culture not expressed in the easygoing servitude of the Goan people can be bought at any one of the endless shops eager to carry the burden of some of the tourists’ unimaginable riches in a show of valiant capitalism. Goa is a place to exploit and to be exploited. Where a person like yourself can sip a margarita on the beach under the nimble hands of an untrained masseuse while the shopkeepers raise a western-styled fa├žade in order to justify charging their ­patrons 5x times what can be charged in the city and 5x more than rural India. Yeah, you know this type place.

I didn’t, however, bring Tiff and Mike down to Goa to enjoy the splendor of pretty Europeans running about nearly naked (that’s what everyone else was there for), but rather to rent motorcycles and set off on a tour of the southwest. The motorcycles didn’t know, nor did the poor fella that rented his three (two were only a few hundred kilometers old) motorcycles to us, what trials they would be put through. Had they known we’d be covering 2000 kilometers on twist-curvely unforgiving classical Indian roadways he (and the bikes) may have been less willing to rent them to us for such a low price. However, we kept quiet and once under our splendid little behinds, the bikes jiggled us out of Goa and into the interior.


We started with a few destinations in mind, no actual route and no idea how long Indian travel via motorcycle would take, but that is what the first few days of riding were for. The first day we figured out a lot. Well two things really 1) Indian mountain roads can be LOADS of fun with the nice paving, twisting, turning, rolling, and general lack of anyone around to enforce driving laws. Lesson #1 resulted in ear-to-ear grinning, a bright outlook on life, and red-lining the little 150cc motorcycle engines whenever possible. Lesson number two is that Indian mountain roads can be blastedly awful in terms of maintenance: potholes made of asphalt (the road being dirt and gravel), invisible speed-bumps and kickers, and twisting, turning and rolling of the road and spinal column. It should also be noted that Tiff turns into a real-life Mexican whenever we drive on red-dirt roads (as opposed to the traveling Mexicans we tell everyone who asks what we are).

(A small voice in my head suggests that I explain why Tiff turns into a Mexican whenever we drive on dirt roads, and so I will: it’s the front vents on her Helmet. I don’t know the genetics behind it but the vents have a magical way of putting a bit of salsa in her blood. I can’t explain it, that’s just the way it is.)

Now I’ll tell you about Hampi: our first destination.


To start with let us access Tiffs entry in Mike’s journal…

(oooh, error, revert back to blog) Now, Tiff’s a terrific writer when she does it; wonderfully witty and bound to a goal of making the reader laugh out load and remark on her genius…but she doesn’t think so. This is a shame. Shackled to a chair we forced her eyes open with paperclips and threatened to dress her in a traditional Muslim burqa until she wrote something. Anything! So she did, but in her spite she compresses three pleasant days in Hampi into grandmotherly worrying of big nasty rocks:

“The rocks are fun to scamper about on –even though I’m afraid of heights and repeatedly yelled at Ryan and Mike to not jump over/onto scary rocks that if they slipped/missed/over/under shot would lead to their untimely demise and my headache of trying to drive three motorcycles back to Goa simultaneously so I wouldn’t get stuck purchasing the 150cc-on-the-verge-of-blowing-apart bikes. Also, we saw lots of temples. Lots & lots & lots of temples.”

Admittedly, that’s a fantastic summery of our time in that rocky landscape but it’s not very descriptive and shorter than some of us would like. And for that I publicly chide her! “Bad sister, bad bad bad! You’d better make up for this in the “comments” section at the end of this blog…or else.” And might I also ask a favor of everyone reading this? Publicly chide her as well. The “comments” link at the bottom of this page is now for exclusive use (except for Tiff) of requesting Tiffany to write something extra-super-wonderful in the “comments” section. Now, if you don’t want to write something yourself, I’ll help. Just copy and past: “Tiff, you’re a fabulous writer. I can feel it. We don’t expect you to write anything fantastic here just a little nod and hello. After all, your brother’s probably just still real mad about all those nasty things you did to him during those Killer Bunnies games even though he was always so nice to your bunnies. So, nothing super, maybe just a nod and hello, and maybe some stuff about Hampi (Ryan didn’t do such a fantastic job) and maybe some of your thoughts and feelings about your trip to India…and gosh, while your at it you should post a picture of yourself in that magnificent dress you had made while you were over there. I bet it was real expensive. Easily two months Indian salary. Hey, and something else, what was your favorite thing over there? Was it all the Muslim women who looked so tranquil in their traditional dress, the burqa? I bet all that cloth covering them head-to-toe keeps the mosquitoes away, and I imagine the skin cancer rates in the muslin communities must be almost nil. And Mike, ditto to you too on all this stuff, I heard you were pretty nasty to Ryan’s bunnies as well. I bet he’d feel better if you gave a quick nod and hello…and your feelings about India…and maybe a mention of just a few of your favorite things while you were there like the gigantoid tourist buses out for your motorcycle-jiggled blood or the prospect of eating South-Indian dosas EVERY SINGLE MORNING…say, and while your at it how ‘bout a picture of you in that most amazing Happy-New-Years koi fish shirt. Yo, I bet you’re looking double-sexy in that. Oh yeah!”

Anyway, Hampi: I guess I’ll have to pick up the slack where others have left off (yeah, you know who you are) until further notice. I’ll let pictures do most of that work. But first, a little background: Settled only 700 measly years ago, the now-ruins of the once-bustling city of Hampi pepper the rocks and riverbanks of a landscape akin to Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, or maybe Mars fourth planet from the Sun (though I’ve never actually been there, I’m guessing Hampi to be a little less red). For those not familiar with Joshua Tree National Park, know that its part of a larger desert built of profound massive rock piles that evolved there to attract the fingers of the skilled rock climber. The place is named for the proliferation of the very original joshua trees made famous by the U2 album of the same name and, to a lesser degree, the botanist that named and discovered them for the western world. Anyway, take Joshua Tree, cut a river through the park and wind it around the rocks, then replace the Joshua trees with banana trees (it’s a wonder they didn’t call this place banana tree –maybe they did, I’ll have to look that up), and you’ve got yourself a pretty good idea of what the natural landscape of this place is all about –with the exception of one more thing– the ceased existence of a hefty population. Time seems to have stopped in Hampi since the city of about 500,000 people departed 500 years ago; and though this fallen empire has left the buildings standing emptily scattered about in the most unusual places, they are alarmingly beautiful and a delight to find when roaming about amongst the rocks.


(Tiff & Mike)

(Ryan & Tiff underground)

(Up for sunrise)

(Above: roundish building, Below: inside roundish building)

(some of many adorned columns)

A note about motorcycle travel…

A 150cc Pulsar motorcycle is probably the most mind-witheringly, explosively, astoundingly, blisteringly, completely inexcusably the fastest thing the Indian highway sees. At least, that’s the way it feels at 100 km/hr when cows, people, camels, monkeys, elephants, unmarked speed bumps, cars motorcycles buses & bicycles blasting along in the right lane but wrong direction, massive piles of wheat maliciously laying in ambush for motorcyclist (or perhaps to be crushed by moving traffic, either one fits the description), stopped busses, turned-over buses, busses loaded well over their braking abilities, and potholes equal in size to the bike ALL barrage the streets. SO many things to be zoomed past or swerved around it’s a wonder we were able to pay any attention to the direction of the road at all, or for that matter, the astounding beauty of the farm and mountain county we warped through.

But we did, and as the days ran on we learned how to survive controlling a small vehicle in a world where size is king and traffic rules have little to do with the traffic laws.

Fact: Second only to climbing on stuff you shouldn't, there's nothing that sends Indians into a crazy frenzie more then driving a motorcycle in the daytime with the headlight on!

Hey, let's look at more pictures and be done with this:

(Lost.Very common)

(Chillies. Big Ouch)

(Roadside refreshment)

Banyon Tree: Tiff, Ryan, Mike)

(Late-night chai on a drive that lasted too long)

(Stinkey stuff)

(Little stuff)

(Taking Tiff's picture. In the background should be India's largest water fall)


(Sunrise on the ocean's evaopartion grounds for generating salt)



One last thing, a Movie: A mishmash of videos we shot:

Download: ---Untitled_Small.mpg--- 128mb or,
Download: ---Untitled_Nero.mp4--- 100mb (is better quality than the first but may not be compatible with some media players without the proper co-dec)


sista tiff said...

Ryan, honestly, how can I possibly write something brilliant and funny when compared to your outstanding talent and flexibility? It's scary trying to publicly post something that's even close to being somewhat almost maybe as good as yours.

But Ok, I'll try.

Let me tell you a little something about India that some may know nothing of. Monkeys are everywhere. Absolutely everyhere. Look up in the sky and they've lashed themselves to birds, airplanes, surface to air missles, anything they can get their grubby little mitts on for a free ride (or peanuts). Or in my case, Mike's backpack and our camera. They scamper along rooftops, traverse power lines and meander through the streets. Now let me dispel a vicious rumor. Monkeys are not cute. They're not nice little huggy pets that want to lick cake batter off your fingers or snuggle with you at night. They are in fact, horribly smart, vicious, sneaky little bastards that want nothing more than to steal all of your stuff, bite your cake batter covered fingers clean off and run away with your wallet. And just to throw salt in your wounds they'd probably give you rabies out of spite.
So, yes, I got to fight off a particularly brash monkey cousin from stealing our camera, alone, while Ryan and Mike were posing for a picture far off in the distance. This was after I got to fight off an equally less evolved "homosapien" after he grabbed pectoralis while I wasn't looking. Let's just say the monkey escaped with much less public ridicule/humiliation and was much further away from a potentially very broken nose than was the opportunistic indian kid. I'm betting he won't try the grab and run again.

But I digress, where was I, can't remember. What did I love about India? Wow, well alot. The food is absolutely outstanding. fresh squeezed juice of almost anything you can imagine, chapati, spicy yummy-yums, samosas, cahi, I could really go on forever. But I won't because I need to go to bed. I'll continue this soon so as to avoid public ridicule and abuse. I don't think I could take much more after what Ryan did to my all of my bunnies.

dingersdad said...

Great stuff Ryan and as usual, simply put, a fascinating floculance of pictorial delight accompanied by a preponderance of loquacious verbosity.

diNGeR said...

Thanks Pa, though I’ll have to look up the definitions to some of them thar big words you used…Hey, I could take offence to that! But I won’t.

Love you