Category Archives: India

Rajasthan

Rajasthan

With about a month left to go In Goa, I had a choice to make. Do I head south for more beautiful beaches or do I head north for the land of snake charmers, camels and turbans? The idea of spending more time on the beach was definitely something that interested me, but it was time to move on and explore what I like to call the “real India.” It is often said that Rajasthan has more history than the rest of India combined. From the vast deserts to the camels and elephants clogging up the roadway, Rajasthan is a place that encompasses what India is truly about. I knew that I would regret not exploring this magical place before it was time to move onto Nepal. So I booked a 24 hour train journey that would take me to the small southern town of Bundi. For the next month, the state of Rajasthan known as the ‘Land of the Kings’, would be my home.

India is full of overwhelming and chaotic towns and cities. Bundi is not one of them. Bundi can be described as laid back, blue, captivating and has a magnetism all of its own. Surrounded by rolling hills, Bundi is a small town full of narrow streets, shops, step wells, temples and palaces. Looking down from the hillside Bundi Palace, nearly the whole city is painted in a light shade of blue. Bundi is full of people from many different religions, yet they go about there day in perfect peace. Whether walking the narrow streets or shopping in the market, almost everyone you pass will greet you with a smiling face and a warm greeting. Bundi is also a town full of parties and festivals. On any given night there will be music blaring from speakers and fireworks going off while crowds of people parade down the street celebrating who knows what. Bundi is a place to get lost in your thoughts, a place to escape the madness that is India. You may plan on spending just a couple nights in this enchanting town, but don’t be surprised if those couple nights turn into 7 or 10.

A 5 hour bus ride north from Bundi will take you to the hustle and bustle capital city of Jaipur, also known as the ‘Pink City’. Not one for big cities, I was not sure how my 4 nights in Jaipur would go. By the end of it, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty that this crazy city holds. On my first full day I decided to venture down the famous shopping district known as M.I. Road on my way to the old city. Now more of an orange color than pink, the old city is full of shops selling everything from copper wire to barrels of spices and childrens clothes. There is also the beautiful City Palace which was built by Sawai Jai Singh in the 1700s. It is quite a fabulous place with museums devoted to armories and royal clothes. On my second and third day, I hired a rickshaw driver to take me around to all the major sites in Jaipur. Our first stop was the mesmerizing Amber Fort. There are many courtyards, a beautiful garden and other sub-structures within the complex but I found the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) the most impressive. This is a room covered in tiny mirrors and the total effect is mesmerizing. One could easily spend several hours within Amber Fort. On the way to Galwar Bagh (the monkey temple) which overlooks the whole of Jaipur ,we stopped at Jal Mahal which stands in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. You cannot actually visit the palace premises inside the lake but even from the shores it is a beautiful site. From the age old temples to the Louis Vuitton and Nike shops lining M.I. Road, the capital city is worth a visit while in Rajasthan.

In the month before I had planned to visit Jaisalmer during the famous Desert Festival. The festival is full of competitions such as camel racing and polo, turbin tying, Mr. Desert and of course the popular mustache competition. Outside of the hectic festival sits a desert town full of ancient ruins being overlooked by the amazing Jaisalmer Fort. The city of Jaisalmer continues on into the fort which is full of Jain temples and Havelis. A very popular activity while in Jaisalmer is taking a desert camel safari overnight. Jaisalmer is a great place to get lost. Just when you think there is nothing else to see, you stumble across another beautiful temple or lake. At the end of each day I would make a trip to the famous ‘Lassi Shop.’ These arent just any kind of lassi, which are a yogurt drink by the way, these are special bhang lassis. Go ahead and look up bhang lassi to get a better idea. Rajasthan is one of the few places in India where Bhang is legal, so I was sure to take advantage of this opportunity while I could.

From Jaisalmer I headed by bus to the busy city of Jodhpur. Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan, and it is also known as the blue city. Though the small town of Bundi was much more blue, Jodhpur definitely has its share of the color. After finding that there was a hostel named after Bob Marley, I knew I had to come to this city. The center of town is based around a century old clock tower, which happens to be right in the middle of the enormous Sardar Market. If you want to do some cheap shopping then this is the place to do it. Looking up from the market you will notice the massive Mehrangarh. This military fort stands almost 400 feet about Jodhpurs skyline. From the fort you can walk to Jaswant Thada, which is a beautiful white memorial to Jaswant Singh II, which is made almost completely out of marble. After just a few days of wandering the city and market, I was ready to escape the craziness and head to the small peaceful and holy town of Pushkar.

Pushkar with its laid back and spiritual feel was by far my favorite place in all of Rajasthan. It is said that Lord Brahma, the creator of the world, was looking for a place to perform a ‘mahayagna’. In order to search for an appropriate venue, a swan carrying a lotus in its beak was released. It was decided that the yagna would be performed where the lotus fell. The lotus fell in Pushkar, forming the Pushkar lake. Pushkar is now home to one of the few temples in the world dedicated to Lord Brahma. Pushkar is not a place in India where you come to see the sights, for there are not many to see. This is a place to relax and go with the flow in order to soak up the culture and allow India to show you its true beauty. My days were full of walking down Sadar Bazaar, eating amazing food and reading on the many ghats that surround Pushkar Lake. Being a holy city, Pushkar shut down quite early in the evening. Though there was never a shortage of loud music and parties due to the insane amount of weddings that take place here. The feeling I got being in Pushkar is like no other I got while in India. I could easily spend weeks, if not months in this small and enchanting town. Pushkar will forever have a special place in my heart, and I hope to one day return.

In the end, Rajasthan lived up to everything that I had hoped it would be. It was crazy, beautiful, hectic and captivating. Rajasthan was able to show me what India was all about. The people were so welcoming and the culture simply amazing. If you want to really see India, than Rajasthan is a must see for anyone planning a trip. With about 10 days left in India, lets see what Agra and Varanasi have to say for themselves. Rajasthan, its been real!

At the bar drinking with Russians

Leaving Benaulim: Part 2

The idea of leaving Benaulim seemed so far away just a few months ago. But these past three months have gone by in a blur. When Noah and I were first trying to figure out where we wanted to stay in Goa for three months, we initially were looking at the bigger tourist towns such as Anjuna and Palolem. Never would I have thought that we would end up in the small village of Benaulim, but I am sure glad we did. The last three months have been filled with relaxation, partying, good food, rum, angry lesbians (although one was very satisfied at times, self high-five) and countless Russians. There has been both good and bad, but I would not change any of it.

The sand, beach, palm trees and rum have always had a special place in my heart. I have always felt that the tropics were where I belonged. So when I first stepped off the plane in Mumbai, I knew that our first five days were just a waiting period till I could get to Goa. On our long train ride down I could not wait to spend the next three months in a tropical paradise with nothing to do but relax. As the hours passed, the amount of palm trees grew more and more. I felt as if I was coming home, as if I belonged here. I mean come on, a tropical paradise that only costs me $10 per day! If you know me at all then this is right up my alley.  My excitement grew as the train finally pulled into the station after about 13 hours. We grabbed a taxi from the pre-paid booth and made the 20 minute ride into town and our guest house. Our guidebook had told us that Benaulim was without a party scene and most tourists were of the domestic or ageing European varieties. While this is pretty much true, what got me was that the guidebook also said that Benaulim had only a small strip of shops and had a village vibe. I knew the village would be quiet most of our stay, that was until December came along.

When we first arrived in Benaulim it was still a quiet beach side village. The tourist season did not really kick off until December. So Noah and I knew that we had several weeks to get to truly know the town and its inhabitants. We quickly became known throughout the town as we were one of the few tourists at the time. This would help once December arrived since we had made good connections and werent treated as new arrivals. There were no beach shacks and the only places to eat were the permanent restaurants that stayed open year around. On many occasions Noah and I would be the only customers at lunch or dinner time. This gave us time to get to know the staff and get a true feeling for what life was like here in Benaulim, both for its residents and the many workers who flocked from Nepal and greater India for the season. In my earlier post “A Day In The Life Of The Bromads: Goan Edition,” this was our typical day. There was not much to do, especially once the sun went down. We would every so often meet other tourists such as Scott, Morris, Chris and the group of Russian girls as Noah wrote about in a previous post. Though the nightlife was still quiet, on many nights we would be able to make our own party with the group we had at the time. Looking back, these were probably the best nights that I had in Benaulim.

On one of our many nights out we met a native Goan who was now working in Kuwait. Chris was on his first vacation back home in several years. We had noticed him at Domnicks beach shack while we were singing karaoke. After Karaoke we decided to head to Malibu beach shack where there was always loud music later on in the evening. We sat down and realized Chris was already there so we invited him over to join us, always looking for new people to talk to. This turned out to be the first of many crazy nights out with Chris as more and more people we knew stumbled into Malibu. Over the next couple weeks Chris and I became pretty good friends. He would introduce me to new people as well as local cheap restaurants. The best thing though was when he decided to show me a small spring and waterfall in the small jungle village of Verna, pictures are posted online. Every couple of days we would hop on his scooter and make the 10 kilometer ride to the spring and relax with a bottle of Old Monk rum and a bag of samosas. You never truly get to see a city/town until you have a local to show you around. This has been true for me in several cities such as Negril, Jamaica and Mumbai, India. The days at the spring were probably my favorite while in Benaulim.

And then there was December…..

If I could sum up my December in Benaulim, Goa, India in one word it would be ‘Legen-wait for it-dary, legendary!’

December was really the start of the big tourist season in Benaulim. Traditionally it has been November but this year was especially slow due to bad economies throughout Russia and Europe. Side note: America, Fuck Yeah! Anyways, before Noahs deaprture on the 8th we were able to have a few big parties with our most recent Russian group at the Hungry Duck beach shack. The owner of the shack, Sunny, has been awesome and Noah and I quickly became friends with him. He would go out of his way to help us out as well as keeping the rum flowing. All we had to do was pay for our Pepsi, I instantly liked this man, no homo! Noah in his Benaulim post goes over who was in this group, all awesome people who we had a lot of fun with. That was until Noah left and the Russian lesbian incident occured. I have received many questions and messages about this incident. But to make a long story short and to break it down easy it went like this:  2 Russian lesbians, 1 awesome me, 2 weeks of flirting, 1 break-up, 3 nights of awesomeness, 1 reconciliation, 1 awesome but loud mouthed me, 2 angry Russian lesbians, 1 even more awesome me. The end. To say the least, the group wasn’t quite the same after this and within a week four of them had decided to go back to Russia early. Zach Julian, creating relationship issues one couple at a time!

With Christmas approaching I wasnt’t quite sure how to feel. I had never been in a warm let alone tropical climate nor been away from my family before. While the majority of India consists of Hindus, Goa is a rare exception with a large population of Christians/Catholics. The Christmas lights, trees, nativity scenes and decorations were all a welcomed sight. I was looking forward to Christmas Eve night, which was when the big celebration on the beach was. Especially come midnight when it officially became Christmas. After the fireworks at midnight and several hours of drinking I find myself sitting in Domnicks beach shack at four in the morning. I am at table with a local, 2 Russians and 2 Canadians. Including myself, there were 5 total white people in the shack. And of the 5 women in the shack, 3 of them were sitting at my table. So this leaves about 50 men and 2 women, all Indian, sitting around us or dancing. You may be asking yourself, ‘Zach, how is this at all legendary?’ Well children, let me explain. Look at it like this, I am sitting on a beach in India at 4am on Christmas morning. I can barely see straight due to all the rum. There are numerous grown Indian men dancing like they are actively having a seisure, and between dancing they are literally fighting each other because someone insulted another. But once another song came on it was like nothing had happened and they all went back to dancing like it was a Bollywood movie. This was legendary because I would of never imagined this is where I would be and this is what I would be witnessing on Christmas morning. Where did my life go so right?

As I write this, it is two days until New Years, the biggest party night in Goa. I have no idea what this night will bring but I do know that it will be a good way to end my time here in Benaulim. This small beach side village has served me well over the last three months. I have met many amazing people and gained countless new friends, and maybe a couple enemies. I will forever remember this place and the stories that I have gained. From Scott, Morris, Chris, Vitaly, Cool, Vickie, Vladimir, Lena, the Katarinas, Sunny, Navine, Samantha and the many more people who have been a part of this adventure, I want to thank you for an awesome and very interesting time. But most off all I want to thank Benaulim and its people. I hope to one day come back to this amazing place, you will always have a special place in my heart!

BBQ for Viktor's Birthday

Leaving Benaulim

Hmm, a lot has happened since my last post occurred. Zach and I did a perfect week. That means a solid week of going out partying every night. We have been in Benaulim long enough we’ve seen a few crops of tourists go through. Some were pretty cool and we kicked it with them for a few nights like the Ukranian couple Ruslan and his wife. Some are here for longer periods and we have seen a bunch like the group of Russian tour guides Sergei, Viktor, Vladimir, Lena, and both of the Katarinas. A few have become fast good friends like Vitale who might meet up with us in Indonesia, Morris from Italy who went back home after an extended 5 month holiday, Chris who is from Goa and just went back to Kuwait for work, and Scott from Scotland who partied with us even after he dislocated his clavicle and was in a sling.

I thought of writing up every night on the perfect week, but I thought that it would get monotonous. Meeting people every night and drinking and laughing at jokes and at the language barrier while the music is pumping and the bottles keep coming. We’ve become regulars at a couple of places and they don’t mind that much if you bring in some of your own booze. However with a fifth of good rum at the bar only 400 rupees (about $6.50 USD) it’s not that hard just to get them there. Although you have to pay for every coke separately at 30 rupees or so. Some nights would just be me and Zach and Chris chatting and kicking it, but usually we would see people we knew or meet new people and would fill up our table, bring another over, fill that one and then grab another. I remember these nights for the heat, the lack of fans, the bugs swirling like vortexes around the light bulbs of Malibu (the shack not the restaurant that we might have mentioned elsewhere).

I was going to separate out the partying and my general thoughts on Benaulim, but I can’t really. However there is another piece that I wrote up about partying with some of the crazy Russian girls. Completely separating partying and daily life implies that there exists some line between them. The places we’ve eaten in the day aren’t generally the places we go at night, but they are all a part of the town. The fallout of the perfect week was that I ended up with pretty severe food poisoning that put me out for 3-4 days. It was another few days of issues before I had a doctor come out and give me some antibiotics. Jack, the owner of the guest house we’re staying at, was super cool. He heard I was sick and offered to get me a doctor. It was a couple of days before I took him up on it, but he got a good one out, Alejandro I think his name was, and then went and got me my antibiotics. I mostly stayed in while I took them over the next several days. Zach went on partying straight for another two weeks (three weeks total as he keeps reminding me) and now is getting over a bad cold. We both hit the wall and our bodies fighting back.

I guess I’ve been thinking about Benaulim in general a lot. I decided a while ago that I’m going to break off by myself for a bit. I’m flying to the Philippines on December 8th. I’ll be there until the end of March and then I’m meeting back up with Zach in Jakarta before we head to Bali for his birthday. When we first got to Goa we were some of the only people here and I got a bit stir crazy. It was some the lack of interaction with people. Mostly though it was the lack of things to do. When you’re working full time you don’t feel a need to really do anything else. You get off of work and just want to relax. You might go out on the weekends, but the time fills itself. I’m still doing some work, but not that much. It started driving me crazy. You think that when you do something big, like going across the world to travel, that things will suddenly look brighter and all of your problems will go away. You’ll be more gregarious, and be able to leap over buildings. Unfortunately people don’t just change overnight. You can’t flip a switch and be an entirely different person, or even flip a switch to stop doing things that you don’t like. I’ve known that in the past, but I had forgotten it. It took a trip to India to remind me.

Basically I was having some issues adjusting to travel, and the realities of what travel would change, and what it wouldn’t. Zach and I talked about it, and he said that he had noticed it too. After talking with Zach I decided that I wanted to travel by myself a bit. Travelling with Zach is great and I enjoy it, but he is a pretty experienced traveler, and I don’t think I’ll be able to develop some of those skills unless I put myself in a more sink or swim environment. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Goa, and I enjoy how I spend my days. I used to be much more frenetic, but now I can just sit and drink tea and watch the street for an hour or two and it doesn’t seem that long. I’ll hang out on the beach for half a day and be surprised when the sun is going down. I also find myself talking a lot less, because a lot of what I say (witticisms, puns etc) don’t really translate to non-native English speakers, especially who speak minimal English. I’ve been relying on Zach for meeting people because he’s much better at striking up a conversation with people in crowded environments. I met most of my friends at work, or school, or through mutual acquaintances.

There is no progress without sacrifice, and I’m a little sad that I won’t be here in Benaulim for the holidays, but Sunnny who owns the Hungry Duck is throwing me a BBQ tomorrow (December 6) for my going away party. Zach is super psyched about Northern India, especially Rajistan. I’m excited to see the Philippines, where Nate, a good friend, spent several months and has always raved about. He also met his wife Sally, another dear friend, there. I officiated their wedding, my About Us picture is actually from that wedding. For my conduct in the photo I blame the fact that Nate fed me like three 40s of Steel Reserve before it was taken. That wasn’t really relevant, but it still makes me chuckle when I see it. We’ll both still be writing and a few months isn’t very much in the grand scheme of things. We hope everyone will keep reading, because we’re going to keep writing.