Friday, February 29, 2008

The talking is free

... but the content you have to pay for.

Meaning, this is going to be another rambling post. (Official tag: 'blah blah blah.')

New photo albums of Rajasthan from both E. and I on facebook, so check it out if you can. I've tried to label things somewhat clearly.

So, Western news. Edwards really did the Clinton campaign in when he quit, eh? She probably would have taken the next few states if the leftist dem vote wasn't being split between him and Obama. I think it's a good thing overall - not just because I more or less, given the three major options, like Obama, but because I think he'll cut deeper into the GOP voteshare than Clinton would have, and that might be a big issue with McCain since no one seems to be noticing that he's every bit as batshit crazy as the rest of them. Evidence provided upon request. Or just click any one of those links over there ----->. There was a really interesting post up at Pandagon from a few days ago about an interview in which McCain pretends not to know whether condoms help reduce transmission of HIV. And that, friends, is really, really bad news.

There are these ads here, for I don't know what, but they're these huge billboards with a huge cartoon of the US, the geographical outline dressed in the stars and stripes, and it has a cartoon of HRC and two anonymous men in suits and the headline "Auntie Sam?". I cannot figure out what it's an ad for but I've seen it multiple times. There's something else on it about "the democratic choice" and then the logo of some product we don't recognize. Of course that's nicer than she's been addressed as by most of the US media in years.

But I was talking about gurudwaras. Or I was meaning to. And Amritsar.

Going to the gurudwaras was incredibly interesting, and being now on the Ganges, even more so. I'll be spending the rest of tonight doing some contextual reading about both Hinduism and Sikhism. I shortchanged Amritsar a lot, in my previous entry. It's just not quite enough to say that the Golden Temple was amazing, beautiful, etc. When we first saw it, it was already edging past dusk, but there were still prayers being sung. When you see it, it's floating in the middle of a square, still pool which is surrounded at some distance by a walkway of marble. You slowly make your way around the entire structure, and you stare. I would have sworn it was lighting itself. It was so phenomenally serene. I could have sat there for a long long time.

To enter, like all gurudwaras, you remove your shoes and cover your head. Before entering the complex you wash your hands and dip your feet in a shallow pool at the entrance. You walk down a few steps, which is meant to remind you of the humility needed to approach God. Then, in the Golden Temple, for about 20 minutes you're knocked on your ass by the beauty of it all. I'll share the details of how you proceed through a Sikh shrine once I've got my background information straight, so in the meantime you'll have to take my word for it - it's amazing.

Tonight we've taken a walk and seen the evening arati, though from more of a distance than we were hoping - we might try again tomorrow. We're getting up early to do a (beginner's) yoga class (embarassing) tomorrow. I'm looking forward to showing off my utter unflexibility and lack of co-ordination in the early hours. Then back to ogling the mountains. I said I was enjoying the Himalayas, right? We're doing a 7k hike tomorrow and then in the afternoon.... possibly reading.

I know, blah blah blah. I know it's a vacation, but I haven't been idle in a while.

Hi, we're alive, and we're in Uttaranchal

Yes, that Uttaranchal.

There's a lot I skipped over before, about our time in Punjab. Like being shown how to behave properly in a gurudwara, for one. But again I'm short on time. I'll have it all down pat by the end of the trip and discuss it when I'm home.

We've just come from Dehra Dun, Uttaranchal, where we stayed with yet another generous member of S's family's community. Again it was lovely. Uttaranchal is quickly catching up to Rajasthan and Punjab as my favourite Indian states (sorry, Delhi). Of course, that's all the ones we've been to so far. But at some point between the tucked-between-mountains-on-three-sides Ayurvedic Medical school and the life-in-your-hands, lump-in-your-throat bus ride up the cliffs to the Mussoorie hill station (a small town at a great altitude where people come to escape the heat in the summer), it's becoming clearer and clearer that wherever I settle down will have to be in a valley. Or on a mountain. I haven't been around hills of this size since New Zealand.

We're in Rishikesh now, taking our first look at the Ganges - which somehow, for some reason, totally lives up to expectations. We might take it easy today, since we've had a busy few days leading up to now. Either today or tomorrow we'll go to watch evening puja on the river, take a walk around town, who knows. We'll be between here and Haridwar for the next two days, until we take an overnight train to Delhi on the 2nd-3rd to go pick up my passport (woot!). Then we're going poking into Uttar Pradesh. Figure while we're here we might as well go look at this.

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited for the next two weeks or so. Back to Delhi (which, oddly, I'm looking forward to - although most of the Indians we've spoken to about it refer to it as things like "awful," "nightmarish," and "hell"), then Agra (for the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri as well as the Taj, which is getting and entire dawn-to-starlight day for itself), then Varanassi (of the famous ghats), then Khajuraho, then back across into southern Rajasthan for Udaipur and, hopefully, Pushkar.

In Patiala we were invited to a wedding on March 15 (I think I might have mistakenly told some people we were seeing one in February - we're not), so we'll be headed back up into Punjab for that in another two weeks. After the wedding we'll go down past Mumbai into Maharashtra, spend some time around Aurangabad (for the cave temples at Elora and Ajanta) and at the citadel in Daulatabad, and then down into Goa, Karnataka, and Kerala. The next few weeks are going to be just amazing.

Argh, internet time is up. I was going to link you photos to all of the above, but y'all know how to google image search. Go spend some time on wikipedia. We'll talk to you soon. Once again, wish you were here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Atwood, "The Loneliness of the Military Historian"

Confess: it's my profession
that alarms you.
This is why few people ask me to dinner,
though Lord knows I don't go out of my way to be scary.
I wear dresses of sensible cut
and unalarming shades of beige,
I smell of lavender and go to the hairdresser's:
no prophetess mane of mine,
complete with snakes, will frighten the youngsters.
If I roll my eyes and mutter,
if I clutch at my heart and scream in horror
like a third-rate actress chewing up a mad scene,
I do it in private and nobody sees
but the bathroom mirror.

In general I might agree with you:
women should not contemplate war,
should not weigh tactics impartially,
or evade the word enemy,
or view both sides and denounce nothing.
Women should march for peace,
or hand out white feathers to arouse bravery,
spit themselves on bayonets
to protect their babies,
whose skulls will be split anyway,
or, having been raped repeatedly,
hang themselves with their own hair.
These are the functions that inspire general comfort.
That, and the knitting of socks for the troops
and a sort of moral cheerleading.
Also: mourning the dead.
Sons, lovers, and so forth.
All the killed children.

Instead of this, I tell
what I hope will pass as truth.
A blunt thing, not lovely.
The truth is seldom welcome,
especially at dinner,
though I am good at what I do.
My trade is courage and atrocities.
I look at them and do not condemn.
I write things down the way they happened,
as near as can be remembered.
I don't ask why, because it is mostly the same.
Wars happen because the ones who start them
think they can win.

In my dreams there is glamour.
The Vikings leave their fields
each year for a few months of killing and plunder,
much as the boys go hunting.
In real life they were farmers.
They come back loaded with splendour.
The Arabs ride against Crusaders
with scimitars that could sever
silk in the air.
A swift cut to the horse's neck
and a hunk of armour crashes down
like a tower. Fire against metal.
A poet might say: romance against banality.
When awake, I know better.

Despite the propaganda, there are no monsters,
or none that can be finally buried.
Finish one off, and circumstances
and the radio create another.
Believe me: whole armies have prayed fervently
to God all night and meant it,
and been slaughtered anyway.
Brutality wins frequently,
and large outcomes have turned on the invention
of a mechanical device, viz. radar.
True, valour sometimes counts for something,
as at Thermopylae. Sometimes being right --
though ultimate virtue, by agreed tradition,
is decided on by the winner.
Sometimes men throw themsleves on grenades
and burst like paper bags of guts
to save their comrades.
I can admire that.
But rats and cholera have won many wars.
Those, and potatoes,
or the absence of them.
It's no use pinning all those medals
across the chests of the dead.
Impressive, but I know too much.
Grand exploits merely depress me.

In the interests of research
I have walked on many battlefields
that once were liquid with pulped
men's bodies and spangled with exploded
shells and splayed bone.
All of them have been green again
by the time I got there.
Each has inspired a few good quotes in its day.
Sad marble angels brood like hens
over the grassy nests where nothing hatches.
(The angels could just as well be described as vulgar
or pitiless, depending on camera angle.)
The word glory figures a lot on gateways.
Of course I pick a flower or two
from each, and press it in the hotel Bible
for a souvenir.
I'm just as human as you.

But it's no use asking me for a final statement.
As I say, I deal in tactics.
Also statistics:
for every year of peace there have been four hundred
years of war.

A careful, nuanced discussion of Punjab so far, and life in the care of S's wonderful family

Ohmygod, FOOD.

Standing policy at the moment is to eat whatever is put in front of you, and so far it hasn't steered us wrong. Not... even... close. All I can say is, Amritsar better be one hell of a place.

We love you, family of S. Please come to Canada some day so we can make you easy-scramble tofu and potatoes with garlic.*

*Maybe not. Maybe we'll just say thanks.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rajasthan and on and on

So while we're slacking off at the Tandon residence in Chandigarh, we're taking advantage of their fast internet connection and computer to offer some photos. Quickly. Here: This is Jodhpur, the city with the major fort we visited and the blue buildings. This is also E looking happy. You can't see the blue of the city too much, and unfortunately uploading photos takes a long time so we'll show you all the actual city when we get home.

(Sorry in advance for the wonky spacing on this entry, I don't know what's going on...)

This is a shot as we were approaching the fort on the hill, which is in the top right corner of the last photo. It was really imposing.

Rajasthanis have a real flair for detail, in architecture as well as elsewhere. The entire exterior of the citadel was all latticework, and no two panels on the entire structure are the same. Below is the interior of one of the major rooms of the palace part. That's real gold, and detailed paintings of the various rulers who lived in the citadel.

This is part of the exterior in a small courtyard where the women lived and spent their time. You'll see the latticework panels here. They're not actually lattice, I just don't know how to describe them. Carved, I guess. They look better when the photos are bigger.

Below is a view of Jaisalmer, the last city we stayed at in Rajasthan, which was the honey yellow sandstone. This is the view from our hotel room, looking out over the main gate to the fort and over the city. Jaisalmer, of course, is where we took our camels from:

They had a fairly nice temperament; were huge; posed happily for photos.

The desert, as we mentioned, was beautiful. Again, I wish this photo was bigger. These are our camels at rest.
(Okay, I accidentally deleted the photo this referred to, and I've been fighting with this post for over an hour now, so the desert is just going to have to wait. I hate you, blogger.)
Anyway, this is from the Rock Garden in Chandigarh. This random guy started building quirky sculptures out of trash from the city, and eventually the city found out and gave him a grant to work on it. So it's all made from reused materials. As you can see, it was pretty interesting.

So, sorry this entry is so patchworky. More, better, later.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Alright, let's make a deal: if this isn't the best vacation ever, we'll all agree to disband and join other families.

We've got S. Or, rather, he's got us. Thank you Tandon family for your hospitality.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

3 different kinds of pain

Oscular pain, muscular pain, and dermatological pain!

All in what you would technically describe as the "assal" region. Camels are boney, rocky, chafey, smelly buggers, but oh man was that fun.

Because I only have a half hour before my hour of internet is over, we'll keep this short.

Meaning, in list form:


- phenomenal patience, tough skins
- very bouncy at a trot
- with long necks and solemn eyes, they feel closer to a dinosaur at times than a horse
- more frequent defecation than any animal I'm aware of
- they require the co-operation of every muscle in your ass, legs and torso in order to walk comfortably... you must stay very loose in the hips and, well, everywhere
- saddles possess supernatural ass-blistering powers
- when in heat, they puff their tongues out the sides of their mouths and inflate them with foul, camel-smelling, gurgly air
- are gurgly creatures in general
- splay legs comically when eating, peeing
- will make you smell like camel.

(Bonus: - are spooked by old Soviet tanks)

And, that's most of the story right there. Except for the part where we parked (our camels) on the dunes, watched the sun set, and stared into the black parts of the sky as the stars appeared in the Thar desert. We camped out on the dunes and learned to make (well, roll) chapatis. In short, it was just beautiful.

E. wishes to point out that she made shadow puppets with the moonlight, which was unbelievably bright. And all of this is true.

But holy shit are we sore today. I didn't have stirrups on my camel for the first bit, and so was stuck using the thigh-clamping method of staying on top of the camel. Staying on top of the camel is most of what you do while on the camel. The remaining 3% of your energy is spent looking around. What you see is amazing, of course. It just leaves your inner thighs, butt muscles, back and stomach muscles, tailbone, and skin on your rear in bad shape.

For the rest, I guess, wait for the photos. Which we meant to upload tonight, but we don't have our photo keys with us, so, sorry. We got some great ones though.

We're sad to be leaving Jaisalmer - not because there's much left to do, but because it's so beautiful. But at 6am tomorrow we're busing to Bikaner and then catching a train to Chandigarh, where S. will graciously be meeting us, again, at the godless hour of 6am. That, we're very much looking forward to.

It'll be a few days before we blog again. Take care, all. Wish every one of you could have been there last night on the dunes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jaisalmer and other things we shouldn't be wearing or doing

Jaisalmer, two weeks in. Beautiful honey-coloured city in the desert, big central fort with a separate half-city happening inside. One we're... destroying every minute we're here.

The Jaisalmer fort is one of the top 100 most at-risk archeological sites in the world. The sewage system was enough to serve the population that inhabited it for hundreds of years, but not enough to sustain the water glut of the tens of thousands of tourists who've snaked through it in the last half-century. The fort is slowly sinking into the desert as the pipes leak out into the base and destroy the foundation. Three major buildings have collapsed since 1990. This place is in serious trouble.

... all of which we did not know when we booked our hotel inside its walls, overlooking its main gate at the town whose livelihood and heritage we're helping to slowly destroy. In case it's not obvious, I'm not feeling great about it.

Especially since Jaisalmer is so lovely. Golden yellow sandstone, everything, narrow alleys, carved balconies. Very friendly people, (relatively) relaxed markets.

And, other than the fort, the thing most tourists come here for: camels.

Before you get all judgmental on us for doing something so touristy... well, actually, I don't have a good defense at all. We're taking a camel trek here. (E. again points out that I'm refusing to use the word 'safari,' and she is right.) We were going to do it in Bikaner, but found an arrangement here that makes more sense for us, plus we hear it's better here anyway. So at 6.30am tomorrow we'll be taking our jeep out to get our camels with the four other tourists we'll be spending the next two days with. We'll spend the whole of tomorrow riding our camels through the Thar desert, stopping in a few places, and then camp out on the dunes, and ride back the next day (we're told this will involve galloping... I'm excited, my spine is not). We'll be crashing at another budget hotel that night after we get back to the city around 6-7pm, and then at 6am the next day, beginning our day-long journey to Chandigarh to meet S. and his family. We're both excited to see him, and them, and are hoping very much that we don't still smell like camel. Which we almost certainly will.

Should we tell you about the pants? Probably not, I'm sure they'll be in enough photos before the end of things. If you really want to see an accurate sample in the meantime, google image search "Aladdin."

We may or may not be able to post again before Chandigarh (where we will be arriving on the 22nd). I'm sure by then we'll have some interesting stories.

Be good.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ugh: A Post With No Content

Lazy. Had a big post in mind for today, breaking into the concern-as-colonialism problem, which I meant to start off with a long discussion about the concept of human rights - which I figured I'd eventually follow with one about the definition of colonialism and the paternalistic attitudes it's based on - and then, sometime after that, and probably in small bits spanning the rest of the trip, I was going to cough up some thoughts on how the two relate to each other.


Came down here around 1pm all hot to get going, and we had a power failure (which apparently happens at the same time every day, although no one told us that). Now it's 4 hours later and I'm feeling tired and lazy. So maybe not today after all.

Tonight we're leaving Jodhpur, getting back on another overnight (we checked - tickets are correct) headed for Jaisalmer. We had an extremely relaxing time here, including lots of reading and eating, which was offset by one fairly physical day where we hiked up to the old fort above the city and saw that. The fort was really incredible, as E. mentioned below, and hopefully we'll post photos sometime soon. Those who have access can look at E's photos of Delhi on facebook in the meantime. I imagine we'll do another big round-up photo upload once we're done Rajasthan, which is really only another 5 days or so anyway.

Blargh, sorry, this post has no content. Just wanted to check in, say everything's cool, etc. Also, E. is going to be posting every once in a while, which I'm very happy about, and hopefully will be nice for those of you on her side who read this.

So, cheers. See you in Jaisalmer.


I've discovered a love for armouries. It's totally baffling, but they seem to have a pronounced effect on me. No matter how tired, hungry, or tired I am, looking at swords, daggers, rifles, pistols, armour, gunpowder flasks, backscratchers (yes, these are included in some collections) puts me in a fantastic mood. We visited Meherangarh yesterday and it was amazing. M. took a ton of photos.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

You never really know what to pack

The books I ended up bringing:

Dennis Lee - Riffs
Michael Ondaatje - Anil's Ghost (thank you Cindy)
Elizabeth Gilbert - Eat Pray Love (a gift from my grandparents)
Lisa Moore - Opoen

And all I've had on my mind for days, you lit kids, is Margaret Atwood's brilliant poem, "The Loneliness of the Military Historian." I'm running out of internet time, but a golden pony that poos marshmallows for whoever can find me a copy online. Au secours!

Jaipur, yes, but Jodhur, oh yes!

Hey again, all. Sorry for the hiatus - we were in Jaipur yesterday and the day before, and couldn't find internet there for cheaper than about Rs40-50/hr ($1.10-1.40). No deal.

One minor trauma later, we're in Jodhpur, where we'll be roosting for a few days. Before I get to Jaipur and the trauma, which after this blog post will not be spoken of again except as a cautionary tale, let me say that we're both pretty much in love with Jodhpur. Rajasthan, you know how to make a beautiful city.

First, Jaipur. We had the better part of two days in Jaipur, which was generally really nice, although during our time there we decided we'd had enough of bazaars for a few days. That's simple enough. Among the hilights were the Palace of Winds, which is every bit as Final Fantasy-esque as it sounds (so, obviously, I loved it. Nerd noise here). It's this beautiful huge construction right on a main market which is basically just a huge front that was constructed full of windows (over 900) so that women who were in strict purdah could observe festivities on the street without being seen. My hips couldn't get through most of the passageways, so obviously I'm not delicate enough for that kind of thing. There, that's my snark for the day.

The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur was really fascinating; it's this centuries-old field of huge instruments for measuring and predicting astronomy, astrology and... chronology? Time. They had ways of measuring the altitude, latitude and longitude of the sun, the accurate solar time within two seconds, which phase of the zodiac the sun is in, and bunch of other stuff that I tried pretty hard to understand but didn't. I think Emma followed a little more than I did, but there was a lot (especially about astrology) that we just couldn't piece together. Still, very very interesting. 17th century, I think.

Our hotel was really great, with a lovely courtyard, and two peacocks that the owner apparently feeds. Regardless of how you feel about that, damn are those beautiful birds, especially from 6-7 feet away.

Alright, the trauma.

Last night was our first overnight train. The overnight train process, we suspect, is in generaly going to be fine and fairly easy to use. Last night, it was not.

We booked our train tickets for the whole of Rajasthan (roughly the next week) at once in New Delhi, for convenience. We had a very long chat with the man we did the bookings with, who was very nice, and picked out our trains carefully. Last night we were meant to board the 11.57pm train, and had been waiting in the waiting room at the train station since about 8.30, because we were checked out of our hotel and had nowhere else we really wanted to go in the dark. Then, at about 11.45, when getting up to go to our platform, E. noticed that the date on our ticket said February 14 (which is today), not February 13 (which was yesterday).

So. We ran to the tourist office, who calmly assured us that it was correct, that they put the 14 because the train always runs late and therefore usually leaves after midnight, meaning the 14. He told us to get on the train. That made no sense to us, but we went to the platform.

Of course you see where this is going. Other people in our seats when we got on. The next 15 minutes were an insane blur of random locals trying to help us (who/wherever they are, we are so so grateful), pleading our case to multiple ticketing officials, jumping from car to car trying to find someone who will let us on. Reminder: it was midnight, we had our heavy packs with us, and no hotel for the night. Finally, as the train was pulling away, one of the ticket guys gestured vaguely to hop on, so we did, still not knowing if we could stay. He dragged us through a bunch of cars, out of 3AC (our class of ticket) and into sleeper class, which is noisy and comes with no bedding. He pulled two Indian soldiers out of their bunks (awkward) and put us in them. The soldiers were not impressed, although they were exceptionally kind to us. I felt awful, but we were also totally desperate. After some yelling between people in our cabin, we curled up and tried to sleep. It was freezing; we'd been expecting bedding. It's still going down to 2-3C at night, so we were pretty uncomfortable. But we were on the train.

After some rough sleeping and numb appendages, we realized that they don't announce the stops on the night trains, and we didn't know exactly when our train was supposed to get in. We thought it was around 5.30am. So at about 4.45, we got out of our bunks, pulled up our packs, and stood by the door to the car so we could ask someone at each stop where we were. We were wide awake, that artificial exhausted-awake, and finally an Indian man in our section traded berths with me so we could fold one down and E. and I could sit rather than stand. He also told us when we were at Jodhpur. We still aren't sure how they know. But we're pretty sure we could figure it out again if we had to - lots of people get off and on at the larger junctions.

Luckily our hotel had sent a driver to pick us up (we love this hotel), who was on the platform waiting for us when we got off around 6am. There was no room for us when we got to the hotel as check-out time was 10am, so he led us through the streets to another building that's being renovated by the owners of our hotel, and let us into a very luxurious but only half-finished room. It seemed safe. We offered him a tip (the ride was provided free and he carried our bags, plus it was only 6.30am still at this point) but he declined, saying, "Sleep, sleep." So we did.

At 9.30am we got up and made our way back to the building, had a lovely and leisurely breakfast at the rooftop restaurant (these are common in Indian hotels and extremely nice) and got into our room a little later. After the rough sleep and the tense night, we had a beyond wonderful day today, sitting on the roof in the sun, reading and chatting, again with lassis. E. loves lassi more than any human should, which is really hilarious and great.

So today, the day today, ended up being completely great. We got a refund on our tickets for tonight's train, and Jodhpur is just lovely. Many of the buildings are this beautiful robin's-egg blue, with the odd pink and whitewash sandstone ones for contrast. We have a great view of the fort, which I won't be able to spell properly at the moment, but we're hiking up to it tomorrow, so we'll let you know how it goes and maybe post some photos in another day or two.

So all's well. This post has been all story and no thinking, but we've both been thinking a lot (I think), so we'll have another thinking post tomorrow or the next day.

I wanted to thank everyone who's reading and commenting; your comments have been really interesting. I especially want to get into the question Cindy's raised about the human rights framework as an evolved form of colonialism, and the risks of that. Gonna keep that in my mind for the next few days. Really looking forward to seeing who weighs in on it.

You guys are great. Happy Valentine's.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Oh yeah

Forgot to mention, it was 20 C and sunny today, and E. and I spent most of the afternoon on our rooftop cafe drinking tea and lassi, eating oranges and pomegranate, and reading our books.

Chins up, you suckers experiencing snow!

The other side of Delhi

Yesterday morning we saw a rickshaw driver beaten by a policeman. The police here carry a long stick, about 4 feet, which I didn't want to see used. We're not really sure what the rickshaw driver did wrong... obviously it was something, but we couldn't tell what. He caned him in the side of the knees twice, and hit him three or four times in the face and chest with the butt end of a shorter instrument. The street, like everywhere in Pahar Ganj, was packed. We seemed to be the only ones who were surprised.

Rickshaw drivers here have been on my mind. Taxis are rarely used here. Usually it's either autorickshaws, little three-wheeled green affairs that resemble a dirtbike with a two-person back seat and an enclosure (rent Darjeeling Limited to see), or regular rickshaws, which are a two-seated carriage pulled by a man on a bicycle. We haven't used a cycle one yet, partially because I'm having a hard time stomaching it. Some of the men pulling these little open carriages are well past retirement age. Even our autorickshaw driver confessed he works seven days a week, as many hours as he can stand. Some things I'm getting used to here - like ignoring pushy vendors, negotiating aggressively, declining any offers of help - but I'm nowhere near ready to ride through town in a carriage pulled by a 70-year old barefoot man on a bike.

And where are all the women?

During the day the ratio of men to women in public is easily 15 or 20:1. I have my guesses as to why. I suspect they're busy elsewhere.

A large percentage of the women we see, actually, are white tourists. We've noticed a pretty strange demographic: white tourists here (other than the middle-aged, of which there are tons) tend to be of certain ages. Two men travelling together will universally be in their late thirties. A man and woman will be in their mid twenties, a little older than us but not much. The only people our age you tend to see are pairs or threes of women, and you see no men our age here unless travelling with a woman. (Exception: the odd man our age here and there who's travelling alone.) It's bizarre, we have no idea why this is the case. Why would women our age be drawn to India as a travel destination more than men, particularly? If anything, I would have expected the reverse; that pairs of women would be more drawn to more familiar places (relatively) like Europe for safety reasons, while men would feel more comfortable venturing farther.

Who knows.

D is also for Dizzying. Personal space and solitude don't exist in Delhi. Although there have been quiet moments on our rooftop, in our hotel room, briefly while walking along Rajpath away from the touts, there is no silence and no solitude. We're getting used to people brushing us as they pass, to motorcycles and rickshaws passing within inches of each other on the streets, to veering sideways while walking to avoid getting clipped by the bikes whizzing by.

We're having a slightly harder time getting used to the low-level but persistent harassment. On the subway yesterday, it really felt like the whole platform was staring at us. This isn't just paranoia, it's substantial. We find it happens less when we take certain precautions - dress as covered-up as we can, keep our hair tied back tidily (braided is best) and don't make eye contact - but it's unavoidable in certain circumstances. It's yet to become really threatening - I don't think either of us have particularly feared for our safety since arriving - but it does make things uncomfortable.

We both think it will be easier when Sumeet is with us, which will be in about two weeks. It makes me angry that this behaviour will stop when we have a male with us - shouldn't it stop because we have a right to move freely in public, to dress as we're comfortable, and to be shown some basic respect? - but then I think more, and it's the same in Canada. Women don't get street harassed in Canada when with a male friend, a boyfriend, or, best, their father. The same disrespect is there, the same attitude that men are not to be messed with but women are open territory when in public. Plus, as far as we know, violence against white tourists is much less prevalent here than various types of violence against women is in Canada. Once or twice in Canada I've experienced street harassment that was genuinely menacing, and genuinely frightening. Here it's a low drone with little behind it. We stand out here; it happens more; but its differences from the streets of Montreal or Toronto are differences of degree not of kind.

Which gets me thinking about one of the few occasions when I've been cat-called while with a boyfriend. It was from a moving car in New York City. My partner was actually pleased; he felt good to be with a woman who was deserving of cat-calling (... by other men [my addition]). I'm not sure I have the time right now to fully take apart what that means, but I think it's relevant.

I think that's long enough, and E. needs to use the computer. We'll have to talk later about where textiles come from, why the cook in our hotel kitchen had to come here from Nepal (we don't know the answer), and why everybody everybody everybody wants to sell us something. Whatever the social problem, poverty is usually the reason.

Take care, all.

Textiles, forts, and photos

Oh my!

Sorry for the gap since the last post...

We've done a lot since. Including figure out how to upload photos onto these computers, so! A brief, incomplete visual guide to our last little while...

This is the main building of Humayun's Tomb, which was built in the 16th century. You can't see a lot of the detail here, but just about every square inch was covered in paint and carvings. It was really beautiful, and on huge grounds, which were based on an octagon motif. There were streams running out from it on all four sides, which led to smaller structures.

Note the mass of private school kids on a field trip. Private school kids on field trips have been a pattern at every place we've been. They nag white tourists incessantly for attention, usually just with a chorus of "Hi! Hi! Hi!" until you obligate, but sometimes we've been cornered, got stuck shaking dozens of hands, having extremely awkward small talk with a group of kids we're trying to ignore and are sure are making fun of us. So that's been not great. At all costs, we're trying to avoid getting stuck in a mass (by this we mean hundreds) of teenage boys, which happened once with unpleasant effects. Still, look how nice that tomb is.

This is the view down from our room to the rooftop patio of our hotel, and down to the square we face, which is just off the main bazaar in Pahar Ganj. We've been eating there a lot. It's cheap and hasn't made us sick yet. Woot! Excuse the blur.

We can't offer photos right now of a lot of what we saw, including the National Museum and Qutb Minar, this beautiful 13th century minaret, because they're on Emma's camera and she doesn't have it on her at the moment. So, some other time.
This is a very small part of the inside of the Red Fort, which is probably something like 2 square km inside. Enormous. The outside is all red sandstone, and the inside, where Shah Jahan and his family lived, gave audiences, etc, is all this sort of architecture; really ornate, very intricately carved white marble. Again, very beautiful. A lot of the paint has been chipped away, and large parts were once inlaid with gold and precious stones, which are all gone. We were still very impressed.
We also wish we could show you Akshardam, the recently built temple we went to a few days ago. All white and pink sandstone, again with the amazing carvings. Attention to detail seems to be what differentiates the peaks of Indian architecture from that of other countries. This huge structure, which also sat on massive grounds, were over 100 000 carvings of deities, over 200 elephants (around the perimeter of the temple), and uncountable other details (especially the ceilings). Something like 300 million hours of labour went into the details. So, you know, that's a lot of detail.
(Nevermind how much it cost to build, how much the land would have cost and the materials, and how much, in comparison, the actual labourers who built it were paid... that's a whole other issue.)
Today we braved the bazaar and got some things, mostly necessities like power converters and locks, but we also each bought a shawl-type-thing. The green one I brought (thanks Marcelle) has been the MVP of my wardrobe so far, turning the most scandalous tshirt into something socially appropriate. Also, it's cold at night.... I've really only taken it off to shower since we got on the plane. So we thought investing in one or two of those made sense. Also, they're pretty. And cheap! Emma's was less than $2 CDN, and mine was less than $8 (a little heavier/warmer material). Which brings me to my next point...
Oh my god, textiles.
Today was a great day.

I think we're both adjusting to the, uh... cultural climate, here a little more. We had to remind ourselves yesterday that we'd really only been here for less than a week. We're just about feeling ready to move on, which is good because tomorrow morning, bright and early (read: around 6am) we're getting on a train for Jaipur, Rajasthan. We have one night there, then we're taking an overnight train the next night for Jodhpur, then a few days later on to Jaisalmer. A few days after that we're up to Bikaner where we're doing perhaps the tackiest thing we'll be at during this entire trip: riding camels out into the desert for an overnight. (Emma is bullying me to use the word "safari," but my dignity refuses.) So we're obviously excited about that, even though it's so, so touristy. Come on. How many times do you get to camp in the desert, much less ride a camel there and back?
Don't judge us.
Alright, maybe another post later. We're getting grumpy and it's lunch time (almost 1pm).
Take care y'all.

Oh, ps, this is from when we got our bags back:

Yes, it was that good.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Delhi, equipped

We got our bags. Heads exploded, tears were choked back, gratuities offered gratuitously to the delivery person. We were so sure they were lost, not delayed. God bless you, Virgin Atlantic, God bless you.

American Airlines, you are on notice.


We had an actual fun day full of fun things yesterday. After a brief morning stop to the Canadian Embassy (dropped off: passport application, photos, and $150 CDN. picked up: toilet paper and clean water. good trade over all), we walked for about an hour and a half through the city center, past the President's Estate, which we saw but couldn't enter, and up to the India Gate. It's a huge monument to the Indian soldiers who died in the... well, we're disagreeing whether it's the Third Afghan War or World War I. But it's huge. And gorgeous... and has the name of every soldier who died inscribed on it. We took lots of photos. The whole area was a very nice change from the incredibly hectic area where we're staying. It was wide open spaces without too too many people walking. We had a nice sit by India Gate, and found out what happens when Emma's sleeves aren't long enough. Requests for photos were declined, and eventually she gave up and put her sweater back on... at my behest.

(Emma injects: It's all true.)

After that we grabbed an auto-rickshaw and headed to the amazing Humayun's Tomb. Just incredible. It's this 16th-century complex that... well, if it had been finished, it was supposed to rival the Taj, but they stopped a little short. Still, the grounds were incredible, and the main building just beautiful. I was on photo duty for this attraction, and went a little overboard, but hey. Beautiful red and white sandstone. Some very friendly flocks of Indian private school children, who are probably making fun of us but I really don't care.

We were back on our hotel's rooftop patio by early evening, eating with the small group of travellers we seem to be sharing every meal with these days. We were both asleep by 8.30. Yes, we party hard.

Saw the sun rise this morning. Well, through the haze and clouds. Still. We had a relaxing morning drinking multiple cups of tea on the roof with an older couple we've met, Jennifer and Eep (sp?), who've been very helpful and interesting. Now we're just heading out, at noon.

Anyway. Hey, don't expect this much detail in every entry. We're still into it now, but we're going to get lazy.

Sumantra, if you're reading this, we are going to have a lot to talk about when I get back. Oh man do I wish I could call you. This has been incredibly interesting.

Take care all. Emma sends her love.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


... where we've passed an acrylics place called "Vishnu Processed Plastics" and a cab company called "Competent Driver's." Where we're sitting four cars wide in a three-lane road and I catch myself thinking that we could probably fit another one in here. Where... you know what, nevermind.

Delhi is a lot of things. Most of them are things like "intense," "busy," etc. But those aren't bad - they just take some getting used to.

Our airline screwed up and we missed our connecting flight from Chicago to Delhi, and so got rerouted (+ about 12 hours) through the UK. So, after a 10 hour layover in Heathrow (which is huge, and entirely lacking in international calling cards) we gradually made it here through a process of changing flights repeatedly which we've termed "air-hitch-hiking."

We arrived in Delhi, our bags didn't. We think they're just delayed, because of all the flight jumping. We're going to find out for sure tonight. My insurance company got a call today. Anyway, we can find everything we need here, even if worst comes to worst, so we're not too worried.

After getting a cab into the city, we got only slightly lost in Pahar Ganj (to be expected), the market area where we're staying. Another slight setback: some of my documents went missing in this area, almost all of which have now been replaced. The Canadian Embassy in Delhi is really nice! We've figured out how to get currency, get around, get fed, get... and so on. Our hotel is... modest.... but is meeting our needs. We had our first Indian-meal-in-India today, and no shaky tummies yet. Then again, it's still early.

That's most of it so far - today was running errands (Emma has been a real trooper, I'm happy to report), and tomorrow we have to jump back out to the Embassy again and then we're going to do something fun. On the whole, things are definitely looking up. We're handling things well, and I think we're both more or less in good spirits. Early challenges were expected, arose, were overcome.

We'll post more after we've, you know... done something.

Sumeet, if you're reading this, oh man do we have some suggestions for you before you leave....

Take it easy all!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

You'll never guess what continent I'm on

No, seriously.

Long story which we'll explain in better detail later... and it's all resolved. Our Toronto-Chicago flight was delayed by more than an hour, our gates were changed with no notification, there was a baggage screw-up.... we made a heroic run through O'Hare (Emma especially... her chest still hurts) trying to get to our gate for our Chicago-Delhi flight, only to have it closed more or less in our faces (mostly more). So we watched our plane take off without us. (All of this was re-enacted for dramatic effect and photo-documentation.)

So after talking to 3 or 4 different airline people, we got redirected through the UK. We got on a 10pm flight to the UK yesterday, and are currently having a 9-hour layover in Heathrow, waiting to get on our flight to Delhi.

So everything's fine, disaster averted, and one hefty airline complaint pending. Also, there were no vegetarian meals. We ate 4 salads each and two buns.... ie. the refuse of the carnivores' meals. It was hilarious, also an environmental disaster. Derina, expect an email soon.

So that's it. Everything's okay, we'll be arriving in Delhi at about noon on February 4 (Delhi time), which is about 1.30 am on February 4 in Toronto/Montreal time. Our reservation knows, they're sending a taxi again, it's all cool. We're still more or less having fun.

Hurray! We'll post again on the 4 or 5.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


See ya.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Because I have some unexpected time to kill, and it's never too late to get sucked into the blogosphere.

Ontario judge orders HIV-positive complainant to wear a mask in the courtroom and all others to wear gloves; believes virus flees body into dry air, is stuffed into his nostrils by evil HIV sprites. I'm sure I don't need to tell you what the complainant was complainanting about.

Update: Oh jeez.

The only thing that makes this a "new" low is that I just found out about it. L-girl at We Move to Canada draws connections between Katrina vanden Heuvel's article in The Nation about migrant farm workers in Immokalee, Florida and our very own agricultural practices right here in Ontario.

Swallow whatever you're drinking before checking out these PSA's about statutory rape. What Jill said.

The blog that brought me The Wire brings you the Worst American Birthdays series. (Also available: Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging. High-brow!)

I think I think this is hilarious. But I didn't the first time I saw it. In my understanding, it's ultimately satire, which is an important function of horror movies - it's just so stripped of camp, considering the premise, that it's genuinely uncomfortable. And then I started laughing. Problem solved!

I roll my eyes, you roll your eyes, no one is surprised by any of it except the bizarre relish the author takes in detailing just how slutty she looked. The "grey rape" debate/concept, sort of like the god-awful PSA above, is what happens when almost-good ideas go wrong wrong wrong. If you strip away all the survivor-blaming (and that's a lot of, er... stripping), somewhere in there lurks an attempt to get people to think about sexual assault in a consent-and-communication framework (ie. you don't necessarily need to attack someone and physically force yourself on them to have violated their boundaries), and that's a good thing. I can't count the times it's been suggested that young women not drink in excess, not wear what they want, not be sexual in anyway because man is that asking for trouble. I have a counter-suggestion; hey everybody, don't get so drunk that you can't gage whether your partner is consenting, forget to ask, or don't really care.

Yeah, that'll do. I had planned to write a big post tonight in (belated) celebration of the 20th anniversary of R. v. Morgentaler on the history of reproductive rights in Canada, but now I'm tired, so just go to Birth Pangs.



We got snowed out. We're leaving tomorrow instead of today.

Now I'm stuck in limbo, with all the loose ends tied up and emotionally ready to get on a plane, but with 24 hours to kill...

Tough choices at the last minute

Of course this doesn't include my guide book, notebook, or Hindi study guide, but I think I've decided on which books I'm taking:

Dennis Lee - Riffs
Lisa Moore - Open
Michael Ondaatje - Anil's Ghost (for rereading)
J.M. Coetzee - Waiting for the Barbarians (also for rereading in a new context)

I think....

My last full day in Canada for four months

... was full of great people. After spending most of yesterday having fun with my brother (which was totally worthwhile) and not getting anything done, I was all agrumble and anxious this morning until A.G. called from Nicaragua, which really just perks a person right up. It's been strange not hearing certain voices every day, and it was really comforting to get that hit of familiarity this close to departure.

Later I got to grab some food with T.G., who I'm excited for - I'm happy to hear that people are noticing that she's way too competent for her current job, and there may be people out there who will go out of their way to help her out in the near future. Also, the moving to the UK.

Finished it off with my grandparents and J.P., who is getting married next summer. I'm to keep an eye out for plate-sized mirrors and jewelry for the bridesmaids (which includes me). And the full series box set of X-Files DVDs - of course there's a reason we've been friends for so long.

I'm realizing, partially through talking to some people who have experience in the area, that a lot of the advice in our guidebooks is really ethnocentric, and proceeds from the assumption that any decent white person will be traumatized by any degree of exposure to anything (or -one) not Judeo-Christian and North American / Western European in origin. This is not totally surprising. One of the "resources" I was given at the travel clinic I went to was a booklet on different types of diseases found in different parts of the world (eg. cholera, typhoid, dengue fever) accompanied by maps of where the diseases are high- and low-risk. Pictured below: the entry for Traveller's Diarrhea.

The entry states that the cause of the "disease" is exposure to unfamiliar bacterial cultures. As you can clearly see by the map, unfamiliar bacterial cultures apparently ravage everywhere outside North America, Western Europe, and Australia. Baffling. I understand that my pamphlet is geared at Canadians, but surely this map incorrectly suggests that something is just wonky in the microbial life of all developing areas which isn't wonky where we live. (Of course that's not true; any perfectly healthy person born and raised in any of those dark-blue places is likely to get sick as death when introduced to 'benign' Canadian bacteria [-ae? -um?].)

So, within reason, I'm going with a new strategy: Ask The Locals.

I can't believe how many new things I've had to acquire for this trip. New backpack, new shoes, new camera cards, new first aid supplies, new water purification stuff, new thermal leggings, new hot/cold long-sleeved shirt, new immunities... I got new glasses today, because my prescription was 2 years out of date. Apparently my eyes have disintegrated way more than anyone's eyes should disintegrate in two years. I blame Robert Lecker, my computer screen, and the hours 3 through 7am.

I got the "why India" question a total of 4 times today. I've more or less resorted to "Read this... you'll see."

But, in case anyone is still unconvined:

See you soon!