Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trains, Planes, Automobiles and Camels and Elephants and Hijras

I've done a lot of traveling since my last post. I met up with some fellow Michigan RAs, Eun Mi, Nithya J and Allison in Bangalore and we took a 24 hour train ride (without A/C) to Mumbai. While on the train a very peppy, loud Gujurati couple (Ashwin) with their two children came on a little after midnight when everyone was asleep. They proceeded to be really loud, yelling and trying to break open walnuts on a metal windowsill.
After 24 hours on the train we reached Mumbai where Allison and Eun Mi stayed with another RA named Priyanka and Nithya and I stayed with NIthya's friend Puneet. Mumbai reminds me a lot of New York City with a strong financial district, expensive real estate and celebrity sightings. We saw this guy named Kailash Kher whom I had never heard of but is apparently slightly famous. See his video here. We also saw the Taj Hotel, the trainstation from Slumdog Millionaire and many museums and other attractions. We met up with my friend, Pranav, and went to several different night clubs and lounges. We went to this really cool place called the Blue Frog that the New York Times recommended. It was really fun and with a live band and reasonal cover charge.
One of the most interesting experiences was on the train into downtown (Puneet and Priyanka live in Juhu). We were sitting in the car of the train and a Hijra got on the train. As soon as I saw her I looked down because I knew that she would come to me to beg since I was the only white guy on the train. Sure enough, she came directly over to me despite Priyanka's pleadings in Hindi. Repeatedly touching my shoulders, head and thighs the Hijra demanded money. Frozen in shock I sat there for seconds that felt like hours, waitingfor the sense of relief that came when she moved on to the next person.
After Mumbai we flew to Delhi by way of Ahmedabad (Ashwin). In Delhi we stayed with my friend Shitij. We took a day trip to Agra where we saw the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. We also spent a day looking at the historical sights in Old Delhi. After Eun Mi and Allison went back to the United States, Shitij and I went to Jaipur in Rajistan (5 Hour Bus). He took me around to see some old forts and we went to visit his cousins jewelry store and house, both of which were really nice. At night they took me to a fancy restaraunt in a hotel owned by the Taj which was also fun.
I have a lot more to update and will do so soon hopefully. I am currently in Dharamsala (I'll update the rest when I have more time!) and am flying to Calcutta on the 7th. Hope all is well!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Motorcycle Diaries- India Style

Sumday night I caught a bus from Bangalore to Hampi at 11 pm. I got in Monday morning at around 6:30 and found a little guest house near the river. I had to register with the police and then went to sleep because I hadn't slept all night. After sleeping a couple of hours I went to this restaraunt called Mango Tree. It was a beautiful little place that overlooked the people praying in the ruins by the river. I had Dal, chapatti and veg. noodles and the bill came to 115 rp. (under $2.50 USD). Afterwards I went to a motorcycle shop and rented a motorcycle. I've never actually driven a motorcycle before so I knew it would be interesting. But, for 100 rp. ($2ish) for the whole day I knew I couldn't go wrong. I got on a big one and the guy showed me how to turn it on. I touched the throttle and shot forward just missing a street cow and the guy chased after me. He then only let me take out this tiny little one that was more of a glorified dirt bike. Mr. Minello would be ashamed if he saw me on this bike. I spent the rest of the day cruising around the ancient ruins on my bike. I almost crashed five or six times but managed to survive until 6:30 when I returned it. I met two Americans from Chicago who were former college hockey players and were making their way up to Everest and were planning on climbing it. The ruins are spectacular with all sorts of tunnels and caves to explore.

One of my friends in Bangalore told me that the temple to Ganesh was her favorite place in the whole world. Though I was initially unimpressed by the temple itself, I walked past it and found an amazing system of ruins built onto the hill. I found this rock jutting out over the rest and climbed to the edge. Despite a slight fear of heights I stood at the very edge overlooking a pasture of goats with my arms out, feeling the wind flow through my short hair and across my body. As I climbed down I saw a monkey standing exactly where I had stood, looking out where I had looked. I stood there watching for a moment until I heard a strange thumping sound and quickly looked to my left. I instinctively hopped out of the way of the bull that was charging me with his horns down. My heart fluttering I looked back to see that he had turned around and was looking at me. I broke eye contact and walked away. A little bit further down I saw two dogs attacking one of the giant lizards that are so common here. It was actually sad, they would bite it, shake their head a few times and then throw it and it would turn back to try to bite one of them. I thought about intervening but decided that it was simply nature and was best left alone.

After I returned my bike I went to a rooftop restaraunt where I met an interesting Polish guy named Arek who was in love with a French woman in an Ashram in Bangalore, so much in love that he abandoned his wife and kids in Poland to babysit her son while she was in the Ashram all day. He was a pretty funny guy who drank the tap water (a brave and stupid guy too apparently) and hadn't cut his hair or shaved his beard in months.

Today I woke up and went back to Mango Tree for more Dal. After lunch I trekked across Matanga hill to the Sooli Bazaar. I saw a cool little temple on the top of Matanga hill (a very steep hill, arguably a small mountain) and decided to trek it. I climbed for what felt like hours but was probably more like 45 minutes, stopping rarely just to drink water and think about how hot it was. There were some very narrow points where I walked along a drop off of several hundred feet or climbed over slippery rocks being pushed around by the wind. I got to the top and sat in the ruin (only about 6 by 6 feet) and looked out over all of Hampi, the river and the surrounding countryside. This was definitely the tallest point in the area and I later found out it is reffered to as "sunset point" and is considered very difficult to reach. The wind at the top was one of the strongest winds I had ever felt. As I sat there my watched beeped and looked down to see that it was noon and I laughed asI thought that I climbed it during the point when the sun was least forgiving.

When I came back down I went to this internet cafe where I'm sitting now. I began to write this post when all of a sudden my body gave me the annoyingly short 5 minute notice that it gives me in India that I had better find a toilet soon. I sprinted to a nasty, public restroom and had my first experience with a squat toilet, which makes the toilets at Philmont seem luxorious.

Now I'm back at the cafe, sunburned, slightly annoyed because the attendant keeps talking to me and asking questions about what I'm doing ("Is that your brother?" "Monthly salary?") and ready to catch my 8 p.m. bus back to Bangalore where I'll be for one day before taking a train to Mumbai. I should update again once I'm there.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I'm finally leaving Bangalore. I'm actually going to miss it. Overnight bus to Hampi tonight and then Mumbai on Thursday. More complete post to come soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Viji is the house mother at the NGO where I am volunteering. As the house mother she cooks, does laundry and generally takes care of the interns and volunteers. When I first met Viji I assumed she was about my age, she's a short (at most 4'9") Tamil woman with a high-pitched voice who does a constant shuffle/run around the house and who talks in the 3rd person at times in what I would call "Indian English." At some point I met her 18 year old daughter and realized that she must be much older than I thought. Though she can be very tough at times she is very sweet and She refers to me as "boy" a lot as I'm the only boy in the house right now. Our interactions can generally be summarized by our second ever interaction.

Bobby: "Oh hi Viji how are you?"

Viji: "Boy, what you are doing?"

Bobby: "Oh I'm just hand washing my laundry- I only brought a few shirts and I..."


Bobby: "Oh I know I just...."

Viji: "Boy no do laundry I do laundry!"

Bobby: "Yes, sorry Viji I just needed...."

Viji: "Boy you no do laundry I do laundry!"

Bobby: (defeated)"Yes Viji"

She also loves to feed people to the point where they are beyond full. Which I experience on a daily basis with interactions like this.

Bobby: "Thanks for the dosas Viji they're quite good. I think this'll be enough though, seriously this time I've had six now which is too many."

Viji: "Boy you eating one more I making for you."

Bobby: "Really, this is more than enough I'm very full."

Viji: "Boy Viji just making 1 more you are eating."

Bobby: "Alright Viji, just one."

She slides two large dosas onto my plate.

Bobby: "Viji I said one!"

Viji: "Boy you are eating dosas I am making."

I have been hand washing my clothes when she's not around because I only have 2 shirts that I wear to the boys' home and I need to wash them everyday but it's not enough to justify a whole load of laundry. She has caught me several times and always yells about "you no hand washing laundry!" She caught me haning my laundry this morning and picked up the lid to a bucket and held it over her head like she was going to beat me with it and said:

Viji: "Boy you hand washing laundry! Viji telling you four times no hand washing laundry but you still hand washing laundry!"

At this point I couldn't keep a straight face and laughed as I tried, without much success to blame it on a co-worker.

Bobby: "No, Veena hand washing laundry."

Viji: "Veena hand washing boy's laundry?"

Bobby: "Yes Viji."

Viji: "Veena no handwashing laundry! Viji asking Veena when she wakes up!"

So I'm still fine now because she hasn't asked Veena yet but if I don't post again in the next two weeks you can assume I was beaten by the world's shortest 38 year old with the lid to a bucket.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Don't have much time so this post will be brief. Went to Mysore this weekend. 3.5 hour bus ride on a very hot bus with no shock absorbers (81 rupees though- under $2.) Had lunch at an awesome hotel called the Parklane. Butter chicken is very good. We went to the palace and walked around until it started raining and we came back. The ride back included being stopped for a while because of cows sitting in the road.

Other than that everything is fine. Sorry for the short post it's just the mosquitoes are killing me and I'm tired.

Take care!

Friday, May 15, 2009

1 week down- 11 to go

Though I've only been in India one week I have enough stories for a whole summer. I've gone through a bit of culture shock, especially earlier in the week when strangers seemed really pushy and sweaty people climb all over each other on overcrowded buses. I'm normally one to avoid touching and bumping into strangers, especially of the sweaty variety, but eventually caved in to the inevitable. I'm looking forward to Sunday when I will be traveling to Mysore to see the night lights.
I volunteer with an NGO called Peace Child India. It's been a great experience so far. I volunteer with two other Americans and several locals at a government run boys home. Though I see many sad things on a daily basis (guards using whips on them, children crippled by polio and other preventable diseases, one boy who's eyes are cut out, etc.) I also enjoy the simple pleasures we are able to bring into their lives by playing with them and teaching them basic skills. Many of these boys are not much different from kids in America. We took them to the park on Wednesday to ride a train and a boat. There wasn't enough room on the boat so I stayed on land with one of the local volunteers who can't swim. While we were sitting there, a Muslim family came up and asked me to take pictures with them. First it was just one guy with a baby but then he kept calling people over and by the end I had taken pictures with 6 or 7 different groups. After they left a family came over and stared at me. Finally they whispered things to a boy who was about 5 and he came over and talked to me in English a little bit. He asked me to shake his hand and when I did, they all laughed and flocked over to awkwardly shake my hand without saying anything and then run away smiling and shouting things in Kannada to one another. I get pseudo-celebrity treatment in Bangalore with many people staring at me wherever I go. I've also been asked if Paige, the only other white volunteer in our group, is my mom many times despite the fact that we look nothing alike.
Though I've only just hit the tip of the iceberg as far as stories so far I have to go eat lunch. I'll try to update again soon- I have interesting stories about waiters, laundry and an 8-legged creature about the size of my hand. All is well and I hope the same is true of anyone reading this. Take care!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Safe and Sound

I'm safe and sound in Bangalore. My Tuesday started at 6 a.m. when I got up to catch the 7:20 Martz bus from Scranton to the Port authority in NYC. When I arrived at the PA I caught a shuttle to Newark airport, arriving around 11:30 a.m. Waited until around 8 p.m. for my flight to Delhi which arrived in Delhi around 9 p.m. Indian time. I spent the night at the airport where I met this really nice guy named Lovleet who I talked to until about 4 a.m. when I left to find my terminal for my 6:30 a.m. flight to Bangalore. I should mention that this is where I made my first food purchase in India. I bought a chicken snacker from KFC which was basically the same as an American one except they put carrots on the sandwhich. Carrots on a sandwhich. The flight was only two hours or so and landed in Bangalore and was picked up by a guy who works for the organization where I am volunteering. Nothing could have prepared me for the ride from the airport to the house where I am staying. The two-hour long trip was punctuated by smog, speeding, beeping like crazy, rickshaws, tractors and cows in the middle of intersections. I arrived at PeaceChild, briefly met one of the organizers, showered and went to sleep until today. I'm going to write a more extensive post once I have more time.
Hope all is well with everyone! Also, I am unable to log into gchat for some reason so I don't know if I'll be able to anytime soon. :-(