Although I have returned from my almost 7 week trip to India, there is still the last part of our journey that begs to be told.
The story left off in Kathmandu, Nepal. We were hoping to take a sketchy bus east through the Himalaya back into India and onto Darjeeling, but a huge monsoon flood took out 12 kilometers of the only road going there. Camps were set up to poorly accommodate thousands of people who could not pass. Some even tried to cross the mountainous river via raft, something we did not have the time to mess around with.
So we packed our packs and booked a flight with Buddha Air to the Nepalese border town of Bhadrapur.
Indians don't spend much time worrying about border security, and it became obvious at this moment.
Allison and I promenade over the border, no guards or stamping of passports necessary.
We hopped a typical cramped local bus to the shit hole city of Siliguri. There is nothing to appreciate here, except for the usual cow hanging out in the middle of traffic. Even with the approaching bus, this cow has not a care in the world.
Since it was an Indian holiday (which they seem to have for every week of the year), there were no forms of transportation running to our destination of Darjeeling, so we holed up in a gnarly hotel room and decided to try again the next day. After a few hours of haggling, we were crammed into a jeep with 12, yes 12, OTHER people and whisked up into the mountains at top speed on a one lane, potholed, blind corner road with no guardrails.
Known for its tea and toy railroad, the town of Darjeeling clings to the Indian hillside and bustles with life.
The next morning, Allison and I awoke at 4:00 am and caught a jeep up to Tiger Hill, a unique location that not only overlooks Darjeeling and Mount Everest, but also allows views of the sun rise as it casts light on the Himalaya.
Darjeeling is revealed as morning mist blows out of the valley.
Because of the need to squeeze every penny to the fullest, Indians don't replace their tires when they become bald and the belts are visible, they just GLUE new rubber to the outside of the tire. Sometimes the glue doesn't really stick, and the piece of rubber begins to peel off (see below). Having knowledge of this common practice gave me a comforting feeling as we careened through the mountains at break neck speed.
After sampling countless local teas, we decided to take a hike around tea country to get a look for ourselves at the beginnings of tea production.
Ever wondered what an Indian butcher shop looks like? This is their equivalent of the meat section at your local grocery store.
As our time there drew to a close, we researched the best way to get out of the mountains. We figured you can't come to Darjeeling and not take the "Darjeeling Limited" (stop) toy train.
We sat by as they built up our train, our second class tickets were mere pennies.
We passed many mountain towns as we chugged by on our steam powered relic.
At one point the train suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere, so I got out to investigate the hold up. What I saw really shouldn't have surprised me. The engineer was staring into the now flaming and smoking mechanics of his engine with a puzzled look on his face. After some tinkering and pouring of grease, we were on our way.
The cheapest (and least comfortable) way to proceed onto Kolkata (Calcutta) was via 17 hour NON-AC sleeper bus ride. If the sleeper part of the name leads you to believe you may actually sleep, think again. India has no highways. Only congested, bumpy roads, most of which are not even paved. This picture illustrates the space that Allison and I occupied for 17 hours of hell, and oh yeah, there is no bathroom.
Rikshaw drivers in India are some of the more eccentric people you will encounter, and this guy in Calcutta demonstrates how they all love to put so much shit on their windshield that you wonder how they can even see out. He was bat shit crazy and took us to some random place we didn't want to go, so we walked away without paying him.
A common sight.
Calcutta is home to a number of interesting, seemingly endless, covered markets. We were hungry so we grabbed some fruit.
British presence is not erased from India, this is the Victoria Memorial.
Naked kids bathing in the sewer. What, where would you bathe?
A typical Indian public toilet, this one is right on the street for your convenient use.
Instead of sitting on a train for days on end in our desire to explore southern India, we snagged a cheap flight from Calcutta to the booming tech city of Bangalore.
This is the overly common skin disease known as vitiligo, the same one Michael Jackson sports.
The woman selling flowers next to her got jealous that I was only taking her picture and strongly requested I take hers as well.
It never ends, this picture is exactly what it looks like. A naked, starving boy with a bloated stomach watches a half dead mouse struggle to free itself from a piece of string in a crowded bazaar.
This same multi-level market had a whole floor devoted to flowers, possibly the only time during the entire trip that the smell of shit didn't linger in my nostrils, how lovely.
Then we ventured into the Jama Masjid mosque. After sneaking in through a back entrance, we quickly left after getting some very strange looks. We noticed Allison was the only female in there, men and women use separate entrances, we should have known better.
Hey, some cool fans, check it out.
With our exploration of Bangalore complete, we headed west towards the ocean in hopes of spending our last week or so lounging on the beach. We should have known better about this too. After a series of trains, busses, taxi's, and rikshaws, we arrived in the deserted beach town of Gokarna. We got a room on the beach and headed out in the morning across ancient lava fields on an all day hike that linked a string of remote beaches.
Just us and a coconut.
The ocean was bath tub warm, hard to resist. Allison fights the surf.
This is one of the cliff side trails that links the various beaches.
As the sun set, fishermen and their sons detangled the mess of netting from the day of fishing.
This is the one beach all the Indian tourists flock to for some reason. The concept of personal space and tranquility is a very foreign one to them. And in true nonsensical Indian fashion, they all swim fully clothed, some of them wearing saris made of 27 feet of handwoven cloth.
The dead, rotting dolphin on the shore didn't seem to capture anyone's attention except mine.
This woman did her best to get us to buy some clothes and bags.
On our way back to Bombay, we stopped in Goa for a few days to soak in the sun and sit on the beach, and of course tear around on our own personal motorcycle for $3.50 a day.
We explored all the beaches in Goa including this one that was used as a dry dock to repair old fishing boats. All the men live in the boats they are working on.
Nothing like riding through surf on a bike in the Arabian Sea.
Wouldn't ya' know it, our bike got a flat. No worries though. 10 minutes, 1 inner tube, and five dollars later, we were on our way.
Some of the beaches could only be accessed by sketchy wooden plank bridges.
Since Indians have an extremely sexually repressed culture and men are not allowed to show affection (or even talk) to women, they show extra affection to each other. These two straight men holding hands on the beach is a perfect example.
Another train ride later and we were back in Mumbai after 6 weeks of the craziest shit ever. Unfortunately due to some typical Indian nonsense, we missed our flight and got stuck there for almost another week. This was the hotel room we stayed in, you're looking at the whole thing. I couldn't even stand up in there.
And in summary, you may be wondering to yourself "What exactly IS the status of India?". I think this picture sums it up nicely.