Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
26Trip End Nov 18, 2002
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-- Time 4 goodbyes
Pushkar had served it's purpose. I had managed to recover from a persistent 2 week sinus cold which it had seemed that all other backpackers had also been plagued with. I had 5 days left before my flight to Myanmar ( Burma ) and decided that I would catch a bus to Jaipur, the slightly misleadingly named "pink" Rajastani city, before begrudgingly making my way back to the one city I loathed, Delhi...
Tom, a dreadlocked, scruffy looking brit who was staying in the same guesthouse as us, was trying to show Gin how to play his "tabla" drum when I showed up with a tantalizing proposition
I introduced myself, "Hey, I'm Luc... been here for about 5 days but I'm heading off to Jaipur then Delhi tomorrow...". He snapped his head away from his drum to look at me with an eager, attentive gaze.
"Wanna come?" I asked
Tom had been caught in the quicksand-like, forget-what-day-of-the-week-it-is atmosphere of Pushkar and hadn't been able to get himself to leave. He'd been in Pushkar for almost 4 weeks and jumped at the opportunity to hitch up with a fellow traveller who had managed to get himself to escape Pushkar.
"Ready to go?" I asked after having bought our tickets. Within a cool 5 minutes Tom had checked out, packed his bags and was at my doorstep with a lets-get-the-hell-outta-here look on his face.
-- More goodbyes...
As a backpacker, you meet alot of people, and say alot of goodbyes
Gin had been a good friend and I wanted to leave him with a little something to remember me by. I dug deep into my pack to pull out the most precious item I had stashed away, the silver Ganesha that he'd selflessly gone back to haggle down for me. I really liked that Ganesha, hell, I loved it! Thinking back to the lessons of Buddhist abandonment and detachment that Neanluckla, the monk from Sri Lanka, had shared with me, it seemed like the perfect gesture of reckless abandonment.
Gin gushed at the sight of the pure silver Ganesh and carefully plucked it from my hands like a grape from the vine.
I made sure to wait until right before I left Pushkar, to give Gin the statue to make sure he wouldn't have the time to rush out to buy me something, feeling that he had to. I hated getting token "right-back-atchya" gifts.
Gin walked with me and Tom to the bus and handed me a photo he'd taken. Although, humble as pie, Gin was a great photographer and had been ogling one of the pictures he'd taken in Jaisalmer for days. It was the best picture he had and would try to sell it when he'd get back to Korea.
He handed the picture over to me as I got on the bus. The photo had a farewell note on the back and was signed with:
"9 months is pregnant time, I hope you bear something special..
-- Jaipur, the "pink-ish" city
The bus ride to Jaipur was a bumpy one. I distracted myself from the sever bruising my ass was getting from the seat by thinking of the events which had recently occurred back home at the office. The company I was working for had announced that they'd be laying-off some staff. To make things worse, the stock market didn't take the news too lightly, making my yet to be sold stock options practically worthless. I flirted with the scary yet exciting possibility that I might get sacked. Not having a job to go back to would mean that I could essentially keep travelling until my funds were totally depleted... I'd busted my hump working for that company over the years and the odds of getting canned were slim...
We arrived in Jaipur late that night to a familiar crowd of touts and rickshaw drivers and after some unrestrained, mandatory bargaining for a ride to our hotel, we were finally on our way to a warm bed.
Basking in the glow of my first healthy day since I'd arrived in Delhi, my bowels sent me a urgent message to get to the toilet, luckily it was a non-squat model toilet.
Critically impairing loose bowels took over and kept me in the loo, busy for a better part of the night.
"Sleep well?" Tom asked as we shook himself from a night of enviable sleep
"Not really, stomach problems" I said, doubling over and holding my gut.
"I've got just the thing for ya, try this"
We had a full day planned in Jaipur and I wasn't about to let a little stomach bug get in the way.
I ingested a plethora of stomach meds. I poured some of Tom's vile tasting bitter citrus acid water into my water bottle, popped a few Cipro tablets ( which apparently work for both diarrhea AND anthrax poisoning ) and swallowed 2 Imodium tablets, which I later found out were 2 years passed the "best before date". If that didn't do it, nothing would!
... and it did do it, for a while. The doctor would later confirm that perhaps the Imodium was a bad move though...
Stomach temporarily under control, we headed out to Jaipur. Jaipur is dubbed "the pink city" but the view of the city from the hill-top monkey temple revealed a blue, white and brown city... I was fairly disappointed by Jaipur, "Just another big city" I said as we booked our tickets out of town the next morning.
Something didn't feel quite right as we rolled into Delhi. The diarrhea was under control but I was so bloated that my stomach felt as if I had sucking on a leaf blower... "it'll pass" I hoped.
-- 3 days in Delhi
I had gotten used to India. Used to the constant haggling for a reasonable price... Used to the cows, occasionally taking the time to pat one on it's large warm forward... Used to the constant stream of Where-you-froms, touts would yell, answering back "India!" with a wry smile... Used to the smells, tastes and even the dirt... but when I returned to Delhi the same head ache I had 3 weeks earlier started up again.
It started to hit me that just as I was getting accustomed to the complex Indian culture and had finally started to scratch passed the superficial layer to dig a inch deeper, it was time to leave, at first I felt a little saddened by this but after a few hours in Delhi I couldn't wait to get out.
I had a list of things I had to get done in Delhi before flying off to Myanmar... first stop was to get my hands on some equipment for my digital camera. I wandered down the busy bazaar looking for an STD/IDD telephone shop where I could find the number for the Sony store in Delhi. I found one sandwiched between a food stall and a book store and entered.
"Hi, I need to make a call do you have a phone book?"
"Sure, why don't you come upstairs, it's more comfortable there"
Having been in India 3 weeks, I knew something was up. It was plenty comfy downstairs but what the heck, I'd make him happy and go upstairs I thought.
I slumped into the chair over his desk and presto, a map of Kashmir appeared as I flipped through the yellow pages.
"I am from here" he pointed to a northern town in Kashmir. The same exact line that had been thrown at me 3 weeks before in Delhi. I thought I'd play with him a bit...
"OOOoo... it's very dangerous there" I said without looking up from the book.
"Nono.. it's safe"
"MMmmm... 4 people died in an explosion last week in Kashmir"
That's right, I'm not just another shmuck!
"People die everywhere... even in America!" he countered
"That's why I'm not in America right now" I still hadn't looked up from the book and was starting to enjoy toying with him.
"When are you leaving India?" he asked testing the waters to see if he could sell me a tour.
"2 days" I thought if he knew that he couldn't sell me a tour that he'd leave me alone, but once he knew that he couldn't sell me anything the conversation took an unexpected turn.
"You know, Bin Laden, he kill many people in America" he snarled
I looked up from the book expecting to see a face of sorrow but instead found a menacing stare.
"Bush kill many people in Afghanistan but George Bush is going to get fucked!" he shouted as he threw his fist in the air.
I was staring blankly at him, speechless as I mentally reviewed the best action to take. I decided it was best not to debate the issue with him and quietly closed the book, turned for the door and walked out.
As I was walking down the stairs he was shouting at me.
"Many people will die! You will see, Bush get fucked! " "Die!"
My head was swirling, thinking of what would have happened if I would have been unlucky enough to actually take a tour of Kashmir with them. I couldn't believe it, I had only been in Delhi for 30 minutes and I already wanted to leave. To make things worse, my stomach was doing summersaults and I was feeling very dizzy as I stumbled back to the hotel where Tom was sitting on the bed having a one man debate over which town he would go to next... I wasn't sure who was winning the debate.
"Shimla... hmmm... no maybe Manali" Tom was staring at the floor and couldn't make up his mind.
After telling Tom about my recent experiences we decided it was best to hit the rooftop restaurant for a bite.
"Tom, are you cold?" I was so cold that I couldn't feel my toes.
"No man, it's hot"
I couldn't eat a bite and was feeling unbearably nauseous. I left the food on the table and jumped into bed. After 30 minutes the room was spinning and my fever was an inferno. Tom took one look at me, felt my forehead then ran out for some blankets, a bucket and a doctor.
The doctor, a plainly clothed Indian man, took my pulse and blood pressure then continued with his diagnosis.
I was a pityful sight, laying on the bed dripping with sweat.
"The medicine that you have taken for the diarrhea has trapped the bacteria in your stomach and now the toxins are poisoning you from the inside. Take these 9 tablets. 3 now, 3 at midnight and 3 in the morning. My boy will come to take your blood at 10am tomorrow an we will see by tomorrow night if it is more serious"
He sounded official until he asked for 500 rupees for the diagnosis. I handed over the cash and Tom ran out to get the tablets.
I awoke at 1am to a spinning bed and bedsheets soaked with sweat, to take my pills. By morning I was feeling a little better until 10am passed and the doctor's assistant never showed up. We wondered if the man was even a doctor at all. After all, he just wandered in of the street and took 500 rupees for the diagnosis. Feeling slightly better I decided it was safer to let my immune system handle the toxins.
Laying in bed slowly recovering, I realized that I had only had one healthy day while in India, and I had spent it on a bus!
I still had quite alot to do, when my strength had regained, I rolled myself out of bed to send a package home. The post office wrapped my items up in smooth beige canvas and sewed the package shut before shipping it off. I walked out of the post office as a fist fight broke out between two men standing in line.
I had somewhat regained my appetite. To repay Tom for taking care of my sorry ass while sick, I bought him lunch at an expensive restaurant in Delhi.
"Where is the bank" I asked a man on the street.
"Go through this tunnel but watch out, they throw shit"
This didn't seem to make sense until Tom explained that a friend of his was in Delhi and someone threw crap on his foot then offered to clean it for 10 rupees. Just one of the many scams in Delhi. Laying down on the lawn in Cannaught Place, another scam artist approached me with a cotton swab.
"I clean your ears, just try"
"No" I said as I cupped my hand over my ear
Tom had already told me about the people who would put some gue in your ear and then ask for 20 rupees to clean it out. He even knew one guy who had a rock shoved in his ear.
I looking forward to Burma...
-- Off to Myanmar
Tom was a funny guy. He always had a funny story to get my mind off my sickness. "I knew this bloke in Goa..." "When I got bit by that dog in India" ... he had alot of stories. It was his first trip and managed to rack up an impressive amount of survival stories. I laughed so much my stomach hurt and for once not from a viral cramp.
Finally he made up his mind on Almora. Tom left that night on a bus as I taxied to the airport for my flight.
When I arrived in Yangon and picked up my backpack, I noticed that it had been pried open. Worried, I opened the top compartment to find that my swiss army knife and torch were gone. Stolen while in the luggage compartment of the plane in Delhi. "A fitting ending to 3 eventful weeks in India" I slapped my head into both my hands and laughed a manic, madman's laugh...
"Perfect! haha.. that's the cherry on the Sunday. " I shouted as the other guests stared at me laughing alone.
-- Final thoughts
I picked up a book in Delhi that I just thought was ultimately appropriate called "Are you experienced" by William Sutcliff. It's a hilarious novel on one lad's adventures in Northern India, which in many ways, resembles exactly what I went through. I highly recommend picking it up for a good read and to get a different feel of how backpacking in India is. The funniest thing was that I purchased the book in the Delhi bazaar, the pages where all mixed up. Some pages were unglued and even still uncut at the top and stuck together... I found it appropriate reading about the hard travel of India in this book and having to shuffle through the pages to find page 36 which happen to be conveniently placed after 74 and 46-56 dangling after 156.
Although the experience was harrowing, and at times, near death, India, in hind sight. India was fascinating, culturally rich, diverse, explosive with color and vibrant.
"How is India?" was a question I was asked many times once I'd left. It took 2 weeks to digest it fully but finally, when asked the always expected question, I'd answer...
"You have to make your own experience."
I'd spend the next 3 months building up the strength for my return to India in August to do just that...