Kolkata to Mumbia to London to Dublin

En Route to Dublin
My cab to the Kolkata airport was set for 5, but I left 15 minutes early. Got to airport around 5:15 with AMPLE time...3+ hours until my plane departed. Went to get my itinerary and sent my bags for an initial x-ray before entering the airport. My bag was tied closed with a plastic tie and I proceeded to get my e-tickets are the Jet Airways India counter. I checked my bag, which no weighs 16 kg and took a seat and wrote in my journal, it was not even 6:00 at this time. I had to wait until 7:30 before I was able to enter through security. I was hungry but had no money since I had changed all my rupees to euros, except for the exact amount required for my taxi. I waited and people watched and read a good chunk of my lonely planet for Ireland. Went through security, which is much different than how we do it in American and Europe. Everybody gets patted down and a guy or girl waves a metal detector over your entire body. Shoes don't need to come off either. The process was actually quite fast. The man who was at security asked me a few questions about my trip and the intent. We started talking and he was telling me how he thought America was 'odd' because in India people hold a job for their ENTIRE LIFE. He inquired about my shirt, which was of the Laos alphabet and when more people started coming through I had to go on my way. I waited and got ready to get onto my plane. I had been upgraded to business class since they were overbooked and I had had my ticket for a long time. It was quite nice. I had juice and a cool towel offered to me as I sat down and the seats were HUGE. My meal was good as well. I got Lamb Sagwala (lamb w/ spinach) along with a fruit dish, salad, roll, and some Indian dessert. I got some sleep, maybe an hours worth? We arrived in Mumbai and I had to go to the kiosk to get my bus transfer ticket. I took this to the side of the airport and got a transfer to the international terminal, which was a 30 minutes ride. I was 'hoping' my luggage would make it. I got to the international terminal and had no idea of what to do, but i figured it out. I filled out an emigration slip and went through emigration to stamp out of the country. I had to pass through security again. They had given each of my carry-on a tag and stamped it as well. I waited for a little then got on my plane, which departed around 2:45 am (Indian Time). I had an aisle seat in the center section. I wanted this, but didn't realize I would be sitting next to a man who had me get up at least 4 times during the flight, I wanted to punch him in the nuts so he wouldn't be able to get up and ask me to move a 5th time. We got two meals, the first being a lighter meal. The flight was around 9 hours or so and each seat had its own wide screen TV (maybe 9 inch or so, quite nice). It was on demand and we could chose from 10s of movies and 10s of TV episodes. I watched an episode of some British comedy, which was very funny, an episode of Friends, and another of How I Met Your Mother. They also had some games, which I played, since they were free. I got 4 hours of sleep perhaps even less. I arrived in London by 7 and had to go through customs since my luggage was only checked to London. I had to wait in a long enough line that it could have taken hours to get through. Surprisingly I was through within 25 minutes. I got my bag and had to get to terminal 1 (I was at terminal 3). Mind you the handle of my roller suitcase had been broken for 6+ weeks so I had to carry the entire thing, all 35+ lbs of it. I do not know how I made it to where I was supposed to go, as Heathrow is huge. I shlept the damn bag, along with my day bag and my other over the shoulder carry on for 30 minutes. I was sweating my the time I got to terminal 1. I took out my passport and checked-in and got my boarding pass. I proceeded to check-in my duffel bag and then got some food in the airport. There was no minimum charge to use my credit card, unlike in India where they ONLY accepted cash. I went through security, which was of the western style and walked another 15 minutes to my gate, No 84. I was flying Air Lingus, which was VERY budget. I had an aisle seat, but no one sat beside me or in the window seat. Nothing was included and all refreshments were expensive. I read some more of my Lonely Planet and was taking notes.

Dublin, Ireland
I arrived in Dublin airport and the pace of life was much different than what I've been living for the last 2 months. I got my luggage and went through immigrations. Went to the ATM and took out some Euros... conversion rate as of now 1 EURO = 1.29 USD :(. Took an airbus shuttle to my hotel (which was only 7 euros), but forgot to get off at the right stop. I was probably only 2 km away but my duffel bag was too heavy and I had gotten almost not sleep in two days. I walked for 30 or so minutes and finally sucked it up and hailed a cab. I paid 8 Euros for a 3.5 minute ride...shit! I went to my hostel and paid the 82 euros (106 USD) for my three nights and dropped of my bags in my room. I have a room with 5 bunk beds, 10 people. We have all share one bathroom. I went out to explore the city some. I walked for hours, through St. Stephen's Green, a park which you can see on the right. It was very beautiful. I say couples, tourists, and businessmen walking through. Next I proceeded onto Merrion Square, which only a brisk 20 minutes away. On my way I found a carnival just to the right of Merrion Sq. I entered Merrion Sq. and initially noticed it was not as popular as the other park. There wasn't as many grass flats, and the plant life was less managed. It felt more of a nature park. I walked and looked for the Oscar Wilde Statue, which was allegedly in the park somewhere, as was a museum dedicated to him--I would go if I had an infinite time here. I absolutely love Oscar Wilde (which is Irish if you didn't put two and two together) and his book (the first and last he's ever written) titled The Picture of Dorian Gray, touched me and is on my top favorite 10 books. I took a self portrait with the statue of the genius play write as you can see on the left. Afterwards I strolled back towards my hostel and walked along college green and Trinity College, which I plan to take a tour of tomorrow. I was reading my Lonely Planet on my walk back and looked for one of the popular 'typical' pubs it had suggested. I went into the Palace Bar. I ordered myself a nice Guinness and sat and wrote in my journal. I tried to make some small talk with those around me, but nothing stuck. Finally I started talking to a man named Larry. Larry was in his 60s (probably) and was a primary school teacher in a Dublin suburb. He doesn't come to the city to drink too often. We talked and I told him about my experiences in India and Lao, etc. I was enjoying myself and had nowhere to go so I ordered myself a second pint. Each pint was 4.60 euros (6.50 USD). After some time and talking to some other people a man who introduced himself as Liam came in. He had overheard me talking about Vietnam and said he's been there. In the war it was I presumed he meant. He said he was 80 years old. He had lived in St. Louis for a while but has been living in Ireland for the last 60 years. All three of us chatted and they were enjoying hearing from someone like me (both an American and someone with such different views and so much younger). I guess it's not typical for people to backpack around south east Asia and India? I don't see this because that's the only type of people I've been around for months. Some people are too comfortable with their lives they never want to venture out...quite sad if you ask me. Liam, I guess is short for Bill. I had the bar tender take the photo of the three of us, seen on the right. Bill had bought me a third pint of Guinness and I tried to refuse, but hey after a while I just went along with it. Before I knew it I had been chatting it up in this pub for 3 hours. I got back to my hostel around 6 or so and was tired. I met the others in the room, or at least a few of them. There turns out to be 8 girls and one other guy. He's there with a girl and their both from Germany. There are three girls from the Netherlands, one of them looks like Claudia Schiffer. I am on the top bunk, she's on the bottom...so cute :)! There are two girls from Tel Aviv, Israel, but they're quite weird. One girl is from England and has orange hair, while another girl just finished University (or Uni as they call it) and is from Australia. She's traveling much of the UK and western Europe over the next 4 months. Dublin is her first stop and is taking tours mostly everywhere else. She's the only other person I've met that is backpacking, everyone else just seems to be traveling to one or two places for a short vacation. It makes sense that Ireland is just a week-long trip. The Germans and Dutch girls asked me to come out to the Temple Bar with them, but I was WAY to tired. I went out to see get some food and walked around for almost an hour looking for a 'cheap' place. See a photo on the right, I took it while looking for dinner. My hostel is a little walk away from the city center, but not too bad. Food is SO expensive here, I miss Asia already. I miss eating whatever I wanted wherever I wanted. Living like a king no more. I went to a place called Eddie Rockets, which is a clone of the US's Johny's Rockets and got a Cobb salad for 9.5 euros (12.5 USD). It was good and I was starving. I got back to my hostel and unwound and passed out. Woke up the next day at 7:15 and was quiet as not to wake the others. Everybody else was still asleep. My bed is the one in the bottom closest to the window in the photo on the left. I had plans with the two Germans to go to the Guinness Storehouse this morning after breakfast. Our breakfast is free in the hostel and includes a toast, jam, butter, and coffee/tea/hot coco/orange juice. It's quite lacking, but will do for now. We made plans to meet up with the Dutch girls a 12:30 outside Trinity College to watch the St. Patrick's Day Parade together. We walked to the Guinness factory, which was probably 3 km away and took just over half an hour. They were both relying on me for directions, which is quite the contrast to how it typically happens, but I've gotten great at 'understanding' city layouts and making my way around. I mean I'll have been to well over 30 main and diverse cities in 2 months times. We paid the 11 euro entrance fee (it would have been 15 if I didn't have my student ID) and went around the factory. It was large and fun. It was a self-guided tour and we got samples of Guinness Stout throughout the levels. On the 6th level there was an all-girl band playing some music. I loved it, purely instrumentals, no vocals. They were from Italy and it was quite sexy watching 5 women playing instruments. I took a photo, which you can see on the right. We proceeded up to the top floor, which was a 360 degree glass panoramic gravity bar. We received our free pint of Guinness and then set out to meet the girls for the parade. Check out the photo of us on the 7th floor are the Guinness Storeroom. The roads were blocked off by this point and as we walked father and farther into town the sidewalks became increasingly difficult to navigate. The parade had started (at noon) and it was hard to make it back. We tried to squeeze our way by and the Germans gave up. I was being compressed from all sides and it was impossible to move any closer to town. I watched the parade some, but it's not my thing. It kinda sucked actually, compared to the one in NYC and everyone I've been to. I took a side street to get out of the commotion (as were many people trying to do as well) and tried to get back to my hostel. The problem was that the parade was going through the main part of town from the north going south, which divided the city in half. I couldn't make it to my hostel since it was on the other side. I needed to walk completely north of the parade and it took more than 2 hours of brisk non-stop walking to make it back to my hostel. I got back and was very tired. I say Courtney back in the room. She's the girl from Australia. I asked her out for a drink tonight and we agreed to meet in the room showered, dressed, and ready to leave by 8. We're going to go to Temple Bar, which is going to be crazy and I know I won't love it, but I need to experience it. From what I understand it will be like a huge spring break/fraternity party. If you know anything about me you would know that's not my scene. I enjoy entertainment a little more cerebral. It's going to be very hard to communicate tonight with Courtney because she's completely deaf and I have trouble hearing what she's trying to say alot of the time. It must be hard for someone like her to travel for 4 months, by herself too. Good thing she's sticking to the western world though. I already miss India and SE Asia. I miss the 'typical backpacker' and their mentality of the world. Here in Ireland everyone is so superficial and ignorant (I mean on average). In Asia the priority was respect, even when sale people where ripping you off. Here they put on a smile and play the game of 'hello', but they have no desire to talk with you and get to know you. Some of the girls are very sexy, but most of them dress like whores, are grossly overweight, have trampy piercings, and are just ugh! Not to draw any conclusions or imply anything but this is how I see many of the Catholic girls in America as well. Not so much the girls in Solon or higher income families but the girls I've met that go to all-girl Catholic school fit the same bill. I'm just relaying the facts, but I DO see how the oppressive sexual teachings of their religion influence their lifestyles. Ireland had among the highest percentage of under 25 years old in all of Europe... they might have the highest. So many young people with children and not in the 'family unit' that is desirable in western culture (and almost every other culture as well). OK, enough for now, cheers! Tomorrow I'm taking a bus (need to figure that one out) to the outskirts of town to see a famous jail.

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Last Couple of Days in Kolkata

Day 2 in Kolkata
And then there were 8. Wow, these last few days were BUSY. Two days ago, my second day in Kolkata went something like this: Cass, Emily (the twin), and I walked around Park Street and the girls went on the Internet, while I ventured a little farther down the road. Dave and Lizzy were still recovering from the previous night. Finally when David was feeling a little better Emily, Cass, He, and I went out to see the Marble Palace which was quite a distance away. We had to go to the tourist embassy the other day to get a permissionary note allowing us entrance into the palace. We walked for nearly an hour trying to find where the metro station was, but finally gave up and nixed the Palace since it was already nearing its closing time. We walked back to our hotel and along the way stopped in a local cafeteria-like restaurant. My vegeburger was OK, but not a burger by any means, just tasted...Indian. Back at the hotel Cass, Emily, and I regrouped and went out to get another permissionary notice for tomorrow (Dave couldn't go since he had to leave for Nepal the next day). Dave went to DHL to mail some of his things, but he ended up keeping it since it would have cost him and arm and two legs. On the way back from the embassy we stopped at a chemist (pharmacy) and got some drugs. You would not believe what you can just walk up and get, scary really. Cass's jaw had been hurting her and didn't know what to get since there were no drug company names, only the chemical compounds. I was able to get her some NSAIDS and she was amazed that I knew so much. It made my day when the pharmacist didn't even know that much. He tried to give her antacids, and then antibiotics...oh brother. Anyways, Dave and I met up again and took a cab to Sudder St, where all the budget hotels were. I went to one that I had previously scouted the previously day and we checked-in. We had a room that looked like a prison cell. The bathroom had no drain, just a huge hole in the middle of the floor. No warm water, and a window in the bathroom only. There was a jungle of mosquitoes in that bathroom so we had to always keep it closed. We had only one bed, which didn't seem to bother either of us and a 13" small color TV that only got Hindi channels, but I must confess I do enjoy watching their music videos. India, unlike all of south east Asia is almost completely isolated from western culture (almost). Later that night we met up with the rest of the group, the Aussies, the twins, Lisa, and Cass. We went to a Chinese place to eat and then afterwards we said our goodbyes. It was sad, but I was getting used to saying goodbyes. We said we would keep in touch and visit each other. Maybe they actually believed this, but I knew better, but played along. Dave and I both wore pants, socks, and shirts to bed to ward off the bed-bugs we were certain where there. Tomorrow Dave, Emily (the Aussie), Deb (the Aussie), and Lisa (the German) would be gone.

Day 3 in Kolkata
And then there were 4. Dave and I both woke up early, he to try to send his stuff home and me because I had to meet the girls at their hotel which was several kilometers away. I said goodbye Dave and he said he would just leave the room key at reception (he did). I met up with Cass, Lizzy and Emily (the twins) at their hotel (my first hotel). We took a cab to Cass's new hotel and she checked-in. She had booked it in advance and holy shit it was NICE. It better have been since she is paying 10 times what I'm paying. My 'double' room, which was right by the 'new market' by Sudder Street, called Hotel Palace, cost me 400 Rps per night ($8 UDS). Afterwards we walked to the metro underground train and took it north to MG Rd, where we walked around and got some Chai Masala. I LOVE CHAI...Indian Chai. It's only 2 to 3 Rps per cup of tea so we always get it when we see it. Chai Wallahs are at every corner. We walked into the Marble Palace, which was beautiful, see photo on right. There were caged animals in the gardens, which as I later read, was Calcutta's first zoo. If you have heard of the Hurst Castle then I strongly suggest you google the Marble Palace since the architecture and decor share a STRANGELY similar quality. We had to be 'followed' around by some tour guide who spoke close to no English. It was quite odd because of the HIGH security and precautions to get into this place, but there was no other tourist in the palace, not even around the palace grounds. That reminds me, there have been SO FEW tourists here in Kolkata that I have begun to feel that I am not a tourist any more. I am reminded when I get stares down the streets and the children run up and shake my hand and then return to their friends and giggle. SO MANY people, mostly young men (15-25 years old) look at my arms and say "wow, you work out" or "strong man" and they giggle. Indians don't have overly masculine builds, at least not the poorer and working castes. We walked around afterwards and I really jammed up my toe when I fell of a concrete and metal wire fence. I was scaling it to try to sneak a photo of the palace. It was a success since I was able to capture one. I applied first aide IMMEDIATELY as not to get an infections (that was for you mother). I always keep antibacterial spray, cleansing gauss, and a band aide on me. I'm the group's medic. I've very rarely used any on my self, but often times on other people. We walked south a little, passing some of the metro stops, and I bought an antique looking lock that I've been looking for all trip. They're ubber-heavy so I wanted to hold off as much as possible. See photo on left. We had walked maybe 1.5 km, but in the high humidly, sun, and heat we were done. We took the metro to Park Street to go to the Indian Museum, which was allegedly the best in the country. The fair was only 4 rps (equal to 8 pennies, mind you) and once we got there only Cass really wanted to go in. It was only 150 Rps, but no bags were allowed in. I didn't like this so I decided against it. We all decided to grab a bite to eat so I directed them to a nice place right next to my hotel, you can see in my photo on the right. Afterwards the twins and I went to the New Market, while Cass went on her own. We had plans to all meet up at 7:00 outside KFC for dinner. We walked around the market and men bothered us about showing us around and taking us into their stores. There was avoiding it so I just picked the 'coolest' of the guides and stuck with him so all the others would leave us alone. I looked at some saris and after 45 minutes the twins went on their own. I was ready to make purchase when I found out they only had one of each type of sari. I looked around for 2 more hours and found the same thing. I finally went to some fabric stores, but the fabrics that had ANY embroidery was no less than 4 dollars/meter. I really wanted to get ~45 meters for my Uncle, but I don't think it's going to happen. I spend a total of 3 hours yesterday and several other hours in Udaipur looking for fabrics. They are much more expensive then originally thought, and FedEx doesn't take account numbers. Bummer. O well. On my way back to my hotel I bought some henna and another lock, just for kicks. I relaxed for a little then went back out to meet the group for dinner. We went to a very nice place that had live music (piano and alto sax). I had a dish called Spicy Spiced Mutton. I demanded it be extra spicy. Here is what I said, "I want this spicy...not 'white man spicy', but full-on Indian spicy". I told him to bring extra chillies on the side. It was a GREAT meal, though not too spicy. Man I miss spicy Korean food. Shawn, when you see Jenny, tell her to bring me back some of her cooking. Haha jk. We said our goodbyes, but realized my plane didn't leave until 8:30 the next day. We made plans to meet up at 1:00 (today) to head to the New Market together. This is right by my hotel and I plan to hail a cab around 4:40? I think that's ample time for my flight. Wow, I know I missed ALOT, but I have been writing in my journal religiously, so I'll make sure to refer back to it later when I catch you all up to speed. It's 11:10 now and I'm in the fastest Internet cafe in all of Asia. It's only 15 Rps. /hour. I hope by now you're smart enough to understand the conversion of rupees into dollars. 1 rupee = 2 cents. Well that's close enough anyways. I have to check out of my hotel at 12:00 and luckily I'm already packed. I am wearing my trekking shoes (finally) and am carrying my journals and North Face jumper in a bag on the plane so my luggage is a little easier to handle now.

I'm a little worried about the money issue in Ireland, since a meal there can run 12-15 Euros, or around 20 dollars. That's more than I've been spending all day here in India. For your reference if I remove all the expenses of shipping things home and my carpets/saris I bought I've spent a little under $350 and that's for ~ days. That's under $15/day and trust me, I've been eating VERY well.

I don't think I'll be able to go online too much in Ireland, but we'll see.

Please check my pictures as I'm uploading a bunch of photos now.

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Varanasi and Kolkata

Varanasi
We woke up VERY early and took our things to a new hotel, one that was closer to the train station. We only had one car so we took shifts switching hotels. We were all down by reception by 5:00 am. When we arrived in the new hotel we went directly up to our two day rooms and passed out. We crammed on the beds like sardines in a tin. I couldn't sleep and went just tossed and turned until finally going up on the roof for some tea around 7:30. The others slowly trickled to breakfast and by 11:00 everyone was awake. The food at this hotel was VERY expensive, but at least they served meat. Everyone played 'colors'. I did not see the fun in it and listened to my ipod instead. Maybe it was because I was the only one sober, or maybe it was because I already did this stuff at camp during our Maccabiah games? Everybody was completely covered and after 2 hours we all had to take turns showering and changing and re-packing for our sleeper-train to Koltata. Nobody was able to get all the paint off their body and they still have it on them as of today...haha. Our dinner took ages to get, mostly because there was only one cook. Our waiter was drunk and stoned, which didn't help the matter. After an hour of waiting for our meal the waiter finally came out only to tell several of us that our meals couldn't be made and we had to choose something else. We finally got our food, which was average at best and paid the outrageously inflated prices. We took shifts getting to the train station. We got on the train and were on our way to Kolkata by 6:15 pm. I had taken the top bunk (of 3) and laid my sheets down first, before doing anything else. On all my other sleeper trains (6 or 7 so far) I have just slept on the bed w/o even using any sheeting. It's always so hard to make a bed when you don't even have enough room to sit up. And doing this when you're already tired, you can forget about it, as many people did. We chatted for a bit and I tried to get to sleep by 8:30 or so. That didn't work out too well. It was a crappy night's sleep.

Kolkata
When we arrived in Kolkata I noticed how much more 'industrialized' this city was. The train station was much more developed than the other places. There were no rickshaws outside the translation (any anywhere really). There were swarms of old fashion yellow taxis. We took 3 taxis and got to our hotel, where I shared a room with Dave. We went on an orientation walk through the city and we left Ajit 30 minutes later. We all went to the Victoria Memorial and we largely impressed with the architecture, but not so much the art exhibit inside. I walked around the gardens and then most of the group went back to the hotel afterwards. Debbie, Emily, Lisa, and I walked around to find a place to stay for the next night (and for the next two nights for me). We went to 4 or so places and I decided to let the 3 girls share a room and I would get my own (and maybe share one night with David). Sorry if this entry makes no sense, as I'm having a conversation with Emily right now (the twin). The 4 of us walked around and ate some street food. We walked to the New Market, and I bought some stuff. On our walk home we stopped in a bottle shop I spotted and got some wine and vodka. It was VERY cheap. We made some more shops at a few book stores and DVD shops and before we knew it it was getting late and we had to meet the group at 7:30. I found and bought a Lonely Planet for Ireland...what luck. We took a cab back to our hotel, but the driver couldn't find it and got lost for over 45 minutes. He would stop and ask for directions at EVERY damn corner. One time he had left his car to ask someone and we just all left, but we paid him and left the money on the seat. We walked the rest (asking everyone we saw for directions). At the hotel we started drinking and had a grand feast at dinner. Afterwards we drank in Ajit's room. He had to get up early so he had gone to bed and we all went out to a club. It was SOOO expensive. It was expensive for western standards. I only got one drink, but some guy was buying us drinks. I got 2 drinks from him and many others got one or two. He just saw us having such a good time he wanted to be kind i guess? I danced and danced for HOURS. Sam danced a little, but Dave didn't. Most of the girls danced on and off, but I SWEAR I danced the ENTIRE TIME. I danced with this GORGEOUS girl that I met in the bar. She lives in India. We talked a little and were flirting and I swear I could have married that girl. WOW. She was Nepali...I think that's where I'll go to next.

I'll keep this short because this girl next to me wants to go online. Basically we drank and danced all night. Back at the hotel, well after 2 am the party moved to Dave and My room. I wasn't up for drinking more and Debbie, Dave, and Astri (the girl from Norway) wanted to. I gave them my bottle of wine and went to bed in Debbie's bed. Emily, her roommate had woken up and saw be next to her and was a little curious, but all is good. They had spilled wine all over the bed and floor in our room. They didn't get much sleep and are trying to sleep it off now (it's 11:30). We're meeting at 12:00 in the lobby and then maybe going to the Marble Palace, but I still need to work out where I'm staying for the next two nights. I'll have pictures up sometime in the next day or so. Cheers.

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Agra to Varanasi Via Sleeper Train

Last Day in Agra
We had a free day in Agra. Although there were things to see and do, NONE of us did any of them. The Agra Fort was allegedly nice, but we've been worn out by all the forts we've seen so much. I killed a couple hours on the Internet and walked around a bit. Sat around the hotel having masala chai much of the day though. I went out with 4 other girls to a rooftop restaurant about 20 minutes walk away. Check out the view from the photo on the left. We all met up at 8:00 to walk to a taxi and head for the train station where we could catch a train to Varanasi.

We ended
up not leaving the station until after 9:30 though...Indian trains are NEVER on time. As always we were getting stares from all directions, especially the girls. We were in our PJs since we had all planned to just head straight on the train and pass out. I was sweating in the heat, though I've gotten quite used to it by now. The picture on the right is what we had to deal with just a few meters in the doors leading to the tracks. They were doing construction RIGHT there while people were trying to get in and out. They didn't stop for anybody and a dump truck had poured stones/gravel on my feet and I had to go through the rubble to search for my sandal. We got on the train and were on our way to Varanasi.

Varanasi, India
We arrived in Varanasi several hour later than scheduled, but we were still there by 10:00. We took auto rickshaws to our hotel. I had felt very different atmosphere here in Varanasi. First off, there are very little non-Indian tourists here. Secondly, the feel of the city is just more...Indian. More cows on the road, more poverty, more manual labor jobs, less English, etc. Take a look at the video below of some of my trip from the train station to my hotel.


We all took cycle rickshaws into the city center later in the day to see the market. Ajit had taken us to some cotton shop where they were showing us how they made their fabrics using block printing. It was a 'routine' stop that all Intrepid tours went on and I was sick of the bullshit so I got 3 other people and just left. I walked around the town with Lisa (the German), Debbie, and Emily (both Aussies). We ended up making our way to a small street side restaurant and we stopped for some lunch. I ordered an Onion Dosa (see photo on left), which was just ok...but for less than $0.40 USD it's hard to complain. We could see them washing the dishes and silverware and glasses with tap water and dirty rags. None of us seemed to care...and I have yet to have even the slightest of upset stomachs. We walked around some more, looked as some Saris, and took in the atmosphere. I took a picture from some typical street, which you can see the picture on the right. We came across a painted elephant in the street. You see, tomorrow is the color festival Holi. Everybody paints everybody...but I'll get to that in a little bit. We caught a cycle rickshaw back to our hotel and met everybody at 6:00 for a boat ride up the river Ganges. We went, 12 in a boat, to watch the puja ceremony. They performed puja, or a blessing, for the river Ganges because of it's alleged holy origins. Please click on the link to read some history. I was not too impressed with the actual ceremony. It was interesting to have witnessed the event, but the actual ritual seemed quite barbaric and uncivilized to me. They perform this blessing in multiple places along the river and each place does it twice a day (see photo on right). Each time lasts for 45 minutes, I was bored after the first 5 minutes. They were ringing bells and beating drums...BUT GET THIS, not to any rhythm. They were waving candles and incense around...BUT GET THIS, not with no particular choreography. Maybe if I was into voodoo or believed that they were actually doing something I would have found it more interesting. The boat ride was 2 hours long and VERY VERY buggy. You have no idea how dirty this river really is. People bathe go to the bathroom in it, they burn dead bodies and dump them into this river and they still wash their clothes, bathe, and drink from this river. They find it holy, yet they still shit in it? Afterwards we met at a restaurant called Haifa, which served Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cuisines. The funny thing is I'm fairly certain I've been to the actual Haifi (in Israel). I ordered American Chop Suey, which was amazing. It was probably on the top 5 dishes I've had while in India. You can see a photo of it on the left. After dinner I turned the wrong way out of the restaurant and stumbled upon some interesting things. First I met some local guys who tried to get me to follow them to some liquor shop and then when I was there they wanted me to buy two bottles, one for me and one for them. They said it was the festival 'holi' and I should do it in the name of the holiday. I said that it was quite coincidental because today is my holiday (I made up some bullshit name) and claimed they needed to buy me two bottles and them one bottle. They didn't like this, but took the hint and left me alone. Of course they tried to sell me pot as well, everybody tries. From what I have discovered it's legal here in Varanasi and you can buy it from government-run shops for 60 Rps for 10 grams. In American units that translates to under $3.50 USD per ounce...yeah you heard me correctly. I'll have to pass on the offer though. On the way back to my hotel I came across a Muslim protest with hundreds of men and boys wearing all white. They were marching and chanting along with a huge speaker they lugged around on a wooden cart. Back to my room and after some effort I finally got some sleep.

Woke up early the next day...a little too early. I've been waking up before 8 most days. I met everybody for lunch at 9 and ordered a banana pancake with chocolate. They brought my pancake, but forgot the chocolate. They came up with my chocolate 10 minutes later when I was already done with my meal. WELCOME TO INDIA. I say that on average I get what I've actually ordered 60 to 70 percent of the time. Sam, Dave, and Myself went out walking along the Ghats along the river Ganges. We were targeted several times by water balloons filled with thick colored paint...since it was the color festival. Luckily they all missed. We were accosted by Indians trying to sell us things and take us on boat trips. We had one boy try to sell us pot, then a boat ride, then he followed us into the local market. We walked no less than 15 minutes, briskly mind you, into the main bazaar area and we still was following us and asking us if we wanted to buy things. We finally decided to ditch him by going into a restaurant and get some drinks. That little ****** can't afford to follow us in there...and I mean that both literally and figuratively. We left that place and walked aimlessly for close to an hour. We met some man who was going into a small town within Varanasi to buy some cheap saris, we decided to go along with him. We took 2 cycle rickshaws, since there were now 4 of us. We road for 20 or so minutes and made a pit stop for some whiskey. Sam and Dave wanted some drinks for the festival tomorrow. We got back on our rickshaws and rode another 15 minutes. Man where these drivers working for their money. We rode through some VERY INDIAN feeling areas. Very off the beaten path. One area was clearly a Muslim area and it was nice to see the clear divide of Hindus and Muslims. All the children and younger adults were smiling and waving at us. Many of them ran along the cycle to shake our hands and touch us. Many of them have likely never seen a white person before. We got off and paid our drivers...only 30 Rps. per driver (that's only 60 us cents for more than 30 minutes of non-stop cycling). We went into some fabric store and Sam bought a silk, or pashmina, scarf for his girlfriend. We then left and walked for 30 or so minutes to hail an auto-rickshaw. We had to walk some distance since we were nowhere around that type of technology. We found a couple and bargained. We were going to Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism. It was here the Buddha gave his first sermon in 528BC. You can see a picture of me on the left. There wasn't much to see but o well. We also went a museum that had ancient and Buddhist stone carvings. We took the auto-rickshaw back to our hotel, but ran into some mess. The ride was about 25 minutes to get there, but all-in-all it took over an hour to get back to our hotel. We ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic. I can not even start to explain the mess. People were on motorcycles, bikes, small cars, and trucks, all of them beeping their horns. There must not have been a stretch of silence lasting longer than 5 seconds. My head was aching by the time I got back. I was shocked, and I MEAN SHOCKED, that our driver not only didn't hit somebody but didn't completely kill someone. There are no close calls in American, not like this. The drivers here are amazingly aware of their entire surroundings. They have to be. Much of it is due to the Caste system. If they are in a caste of tuk-tuk drivers they learn the skill, and they learn it well. But we finally made it back, safely, to our hotel around 4:00.

OK, so back to the color festival, called Holi, which is tomorrow March 11. Many of the Indians drink on this day, and Indians don't really drink. People that don't often drink and get plastered typically don't know how to handle their alcohol. It's for this reason that everyone in our group has decided to do the following; At 6:00 in the morning tomorrow we are checking out of this hotel and booking 2 rooms, just for the day, in a hotel near the train station. We are going to play the 'color festival' on our own on the roof at the hotel until it's time for us to leave for our overnight train to Kolkata. Then we'll wash up in our 2 rooms and check out of the hotel and take our last overnight train. Being on the streets is not safe, especially for the girls. There are drugs and sexual violence all over. Police forces are ramped up for days just for this holiday. I was already painted with blue 'color' while I was walking today. It's just not safe to be on the streets so we are all back in the hotel tonight early as well. We might venture out for a quick bite, but not too far. Ok, I think I've said enough and am not even sure if what I wrote makes much sense. Hopefully it does make sense. Cheers everybody. O and one more thing. Uncle Marc, I sent 4 saris home, but they're not what you wanted. I am going to try to buy you what you want, but my guide, Ajit, told me that the FedEx here in India won't accept payment through an account number. I'll check this out for myself, but I'm not sure if it will work out. Cheers!

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Jaipur to Agra via Bharatpur

Our Last Night in Jaipur
We all went out to the movie theater, Raj Mandir, which critics claim is the best cinema in all of Asia. It was very nice inside. Pictures were not allowed inside, but you can see a photo of the outside on the left. We saw the movie Delhi 6 and it was all in Hindi, all 3 hours of it. After it was over I had to explain to everybody what it was about. Our guide had fallen asleep during the film so I needed to tell him as well. The group couldn't follow the plot, but it was very very simple. It was about the Hindu-Muslim conflict in Delhi and there was SO much symbolism in the film that it would make even a 10th grade English teacher want to puke. I got some McDonald's after, which was just down the road. I ordered a Mexican chicken wrap and it was good to eat some quality food for once. Yeah I know, McDonald's food being classified as 'quality', quite scary, huh? The next day we left early to leave for Bharatpur, India.

This was a sleepy town particularly known for the Keoladeo National Park, which is 29 sq km. I went there on my own because I wanted to be able to walk at my own pace. 4 or 5 of the girls didn't even bother to go, while many of the others went in groups of 2 or three. All the others hired a cycle-rickshaw for 50 to 100 rupees. This park is known for bird watching, and I'm not the type to watch birds, but I thought it would be a nice escape from the 'India' that I've been immersed in for the last 2 weeks. I knew it was a large park, but I had NO idea. I ended up walking, briskly mind you, for a little over 3 hours. I went over the map and scaled it to see how far I had actually walked...the total...between 14 and 17 km. That's between 9and 11 miles. I had worn a pedometer and it read 18000+ steps just during those 3 hours. I had seen turtles up close, as well as monkeys, antelope and deer. 10s of different species of birds within a few meters at one time. I even came across some local villagers when I was trekking off the main road and onto, unpaved, dirt paths. You can see some type of antelope or deer eating in the water in the picture to the left. The sounds were so amazing and coming from all over. At some points I was a little frightened, but I managed OK...I was even able to see a beautiful female peacock with all her wonderful feathers attracting a male, not too far behind. Afterwards I relaxed and then most of us ate at the hotel's buffet. It was quite expensive, but we ALL made sure to get our money's worth. See the photo on the right...that's my second serving, you can guess how much bigger my first serving was.

We took a short, 2 hour, bus ride to the city which has the 1st wonder of the world. Yep, you guessed it, the Taj Mahal. I went to the Taj Mahal after settling into my room at around 1:00. I have my own room again, but this time only for one night. I went alone because the others were going to go later to see the sun set. I wanted to go when the sun was over head for the best light for my photos. Also I've seen so many sun sets on this trip and found them ALL to be pretty pointless. I am 'clever' enough to know what something would look like without actually seeing it. So many people are convinced that watching something with a sun set or sun rise makes that thing inherently more beautiful, which is completely bogus. The aesthetics of something is the same without or with the clear skies and sun. True, it might make the 'moment' more meaningful, but that's only if you let it...but it's not me to make something out of nothing...My first impression was that, "wow that is big". I just starred in awe for a little bit. It was so perfectly symmetrical and the gardens so just it made me smile like a fool. My guide had said it would take at least 3 hours to walk through the entire Taj Mahal complex. I guess I set a record with my little shy of 1 hour walk-through. It cost 750 Rps. ($15 USD), which is VERY expensive, but it only cost 10 Rps. ($0.20 USD) for native Indians. I felt I spent ample time looking at all the finely carved and set marble and inlaid gem stones. I exited the Taj and walked out of the opposite gate I entered. I walked around just to see the street of Agra. I was grabbed and hassled by 10s and 10s of men and boys trying to sell me marble, t-shirts, Internet, post cards, ice cream, rickshaw rides, food, etc. I enjoy telling the Indians, "no", mostly becuase I mess with them. I only mess with them if they don't leave me alone after I politely say, "No thank you sir" at least once. You can see some more photos at the Taj Mahal if you check out my pictures.
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