Where did the last one leave off? Oh yeah, with myself, Allison, my

mom, and sister meeting up with friends Zac and Joan in Mumbai (Bombay).

From

there we headed south on a tour of my childhood. We stopped and saw our

old houses, schools, teachers, friends, and villages (Panvel and

Palaspae).

But not before Zac and Joan attempted to tear apart the hotel room (and each other) with a pillow fight.

You

may recognize from my first India blog the woman seen between my mother

and I, she is my childhood school teacher. The last time we saw each

other was over 18 years ago.

Kids love to beg for money while poking and grabbing you, I found a good way to scare them off.

Then

we ventured by train to Matheron, a huge nature preserve on the top of

a plateau, inhabited by lots of monkeys. We chose to see some of it by

horse back, Zac mounts a horse for the first time.

Then we walked around the perimeter to see its various lookouts.

The market in the town below had all kinds of fly infested food to eat.

We

said our goodbyes to my mother and sister and took another packed local

train to the north. The mob mentality during the scramble for the door

was like nothing I have ever experienced, even in Tokyo at the world's

busiest subway station. Despite our best efforts, the girls said they were groped more times in

those 2-3 seconds then they could even count. Joan hangs in there.

Our

next stop on the way to the north was Jalgaon. It was Ganesh Chaturthi,

the festival for the elephant god Ganesh so there were people selling

piles of colored sand everywhere for sidewalk and temple adornment.

Allison

was very sick and bedridden, so we mellowed out and took it easy. Then

the four of us took a 26 hour sleeper train to Varanasi (Banaras).

This is the view from our hotel balcony, overlooking the holy Ganga river and Manikarnika (burning ghat).

Here

is another example of Indian brainiacs at work, you witness such acts

of stupidity every few seconds. They needed to do some electrical work,

so they leaned a bamboo ladder against the wires themselves and

proceeded to clip live electrical wires barefoot and with no gloves as

the ladder flexed and bobbled.

One

sect of Hinduism dictates that you never have to wear clothes. This

guy, who I referred to as "naked man" could be seen any day, anytime sitting naked along the street, just "hanging out" so to speak.

After a number of people attempted to pick pocket us, we headed away

from the Ganga to explore Varanasi in its entirety. These two boys

begged to have their picture taken.

We wanted to see the nightly ritual of lights, singing, and dancing so we rikshawed to the main ghat. This is the entrance.

To get a different perspective, we headed out on a boat.

When the show came to an end, we headed down stream back to the burning ghat and our hotel.

The night sky was filled with fire, smoke, and the smell of burning hair and flesh.

They

burn bodies 24 hours a day,  365 days a year. The only people who are

not burned are Sadus (holy men), pregnant women, children, lepers, and

those killed by snakes "death by cobra".

Viewed from above, the heat, smoke, fire, and stench are blinding.

The

next morning we woke at sunrise and got a boat and boatman to take us

out to see the daily ritual of people bathing, drinking, and washing

clothes in the holy Ganga. Not everyone is burned before getting dumped

into the Ganga, and the river is home to fresh water dolphins that feed

on the flesh of those who cannot afford to be burned. Just after I took

this picture, a dead baby floated by.

Another

view of the burning ghat, notice the foot. The fires are smaller than

the bodies placed on them, so the extremities must be flipped back into

the fire after the torso has disintegrated. The soul is said to have

left the body when the skull "pops". Quite the sound.

I got more sick that day then ever before. Confined to my bed all day, I thought I was dying. Bad times.

The

following day we hired another boat in hopes of adventuring along the

less inhabited opposite shore of the Ganga. Here a man thoughtfully

bathes, a part of most people's daily routine.

For safe drinking purposes, water must have a fecal count of less than 5,000 parts per liter, less than 50,000 PPL for bathing and

below 500,000 PPL for agricultural

use. The present level of coliform in

the Ganga is 2,100,000 PPL and is considered "septic". I decided to play it safe and just dip my feet in.

I

explored this very same area with my dad as a child, finding bones and

skulls along the way. Hasn't changed much in 20 odd years.

The Ram Nagar Fort across the river looked interesting, so we ventured that way.

With our curiosity of Varanasi quenched, we bought tickets on the local

flight leaving for Kathmandu, Nepal. After getting a ride to the

airport with a crazy, drunk rikshaw driver, we discovered that

"security" is really just a laughing matter. We arrived 30 minutes

before the flight, knowing in junk show Indian fashion that the plane

would most certainly be late (and boy was it). Ever had a flight

attendant dressed in a sari?

Zac

and Joan decided to go their separate way the next day, so we spent our

last night together seeing what Kathmandu had to offer. This is the

Pashupatinath Temple, where they also burn bodies.

The

following day Allison and I headed west via 8 hour bus ride to the town

of Pokhara, at the base of the Himalaya to do some hiking and see the

largest mountains in the world. It was the sketchiest bus ride of my

life, there were no guard rails and we passed countless head-on fatal

collisions as we flew through the mountains. Nonetheless, people pack

into the buses, even on the roof. We also had a goat in the aisle of our

bus.

Like I said, it was a white knuckle ride. Even the locals were puking.

Didn't seem to bother this woman much, she continued to eat after

throwing up.

At last, the town of Pokhara, on Phewa Lake.

The

next morning, we walked out of town and around the lake to embark on a

hike up to Sarangkot. We hiked past numerous terraced rice fields.

Midway through our hike, the town of Pokhara can be seen in the distance.

The view of the Annapurna Range was temporarily obstructed by clouds, better pictures are below.

We

figured renting a motorcycle would be a good way to cover some serious

ground, so the next day we threw down a whole $4 and got this hog.

Plenty of sketchy off-roading was in order as we headed up footpaths

into the mountains.

This

was in a small village we came across, tucked into the hillside. These

bamboo swings are a very common sight, and we were encouraged to give

it a shot. Pretty sure we were the first white people most of these

kids had ever seen. Allison boosts.

We came across the World Peace Stupa, perched high on a ridge.

We

made our way back down the valley and after some motoring and walking

around, came across an interesting water fall. Naked in Nepal, might as

well.

We set out to make it around Phewa Lake, which turned out to be more of an off-roading adventure then we had anticipated.

It's a rental, you think I'm NOT going to jump it? Here I attain some HUGE AIR.

The

dead end "road" led us to a town on the far side of the lake. We had to

cross more streams and rivers than I recall. I lost my sandal just

after this picture was taken, and a villager ran downstream to retrieve

it for me. The bottom of all of these crossings were rocky stream beds,

would have never guessed a motorcycle could do this...

In short order, my goggle tan was replaced with a sandal tan.

Some boys play soccer under the highest (23,000 ft) and most recognizable peak in the Annapurna Range, Machhapuchhre.

With

our few days spent in Pokhara, we took another sketchy bus to

Kathmandu to catch our flight back to India. We couldn't help but

see a few more sights though.

I write this from Pune (near Bombay). Due to some Indian nonsense, we missed our flight a few days ago and will hopefully make it out tomorrow. I want to do nothing but ski as soon as I get back, so wish me luck and look for my last India blog detailing travels to Darjeeling, Calcutta, Bangalore, Goa, and Mumbai.


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