India
Varanasi, Agra, Delhi, and Bombay

Go to India, but do it in the reverse direction that I did.  Flying into Varanasi first was a culture shock.  It was one of the places Lauren was going to try and meet me.  I'm not sure if she'd still be dating me if we had.  Its not her style.  The city is chaos.  Dirty, sweaty, hot, chaos.  However, it was a lot of fun because it was definitely an authentic Indian experience.  The taxi ride from the airport involved swerving around cows, sheep, people, and other cars.  Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in Indian and many of people take their families to bathe in the Ganges River at the Ghats. 

The streets of Varanasi

Parallel parking in Varanasi

This kid jumped onto my rickshaw to get a free ride (I thought he was trying to steal my wallet at first)

 

I went down at 430am to watch the sunrise and was surprised to find tons of people already in the water.  I am yet to understand how it is considered holy considering how polluted it is.  You couldn’t have paid me to stick my toe in it, the water was green and there was sewage, trash, and even the rumored occasional dead body floating down the river.  The locals looked like they were having fun though. 

Sunrise over the Ganges

An early morning swim

The crowds thinned out after sunrise

The local laundromat

Spin Cycle

 

Some of the Ghats are used to cremate the dead.  The farther up the river you are, the richer you were because your ashes floated in the river longer.  I stuck around to see if I could catch one of the ceremonies (they are performed outside where everyone can see).  When I saw some of the bodies being dragged out, I decided I really didn’t want to see someone being tossed on an open flame.

At the cremation house, the logs in the background were the firewood

 

From Varanasi, I headed to Agra on an overnight train where I met a nice French couple.  We toured the Red Fort, the markets, and of course, the Taj.  I don’t know where to even start trying to describe the Taj experience.  The building was the most amazing structure I’ve ever seen.  Every piece was handmade marble with semiprecious stones inlaid. 

Totting the luggage from city to city

My new French friends, Jealle and Elodie (I'm sure I spelled their names wrong)

The courtyard of the Red Fort in Agra

Arched entryway to the King's Palace at the Red Fort

Jealle and I with the Taj in the background

The Taj!

View from the west

The palace on the eastern side (it's a hotel now)

Taking a breather after touring the Taj (you have to tour it barefoot)

Jealle had me doing about ten poses and apparently this one was the best

 

As beautiful as the Taj was, the people were the best part.  I think a lot of the Indians there were from smaller town where they don’t get a lot of tourists (read ‘white people’).  I literally had 15 or so people come up to me and ask if they could take my picture.  The French girl, Elodie, was the biggest hit though.  She couldn’t go ten feet without teenage boys stopping her and shyly asking for her picture.  Can't imagine the attention that Lauren would have gotten.  Elodie and Jealle had brought balloons to pass out to some of the kids in small villages during train rides.  We pulled out a couple and blew them up.  Next thing we knew we were engulfed by giggling Indian children. 

A little girl who thought we were very interesting

One of my poses for the locals

Passing out balloons to some local kid at a train stop en route to Agra

 

The train ride that evening from Agra to Delhi started great.  I came up to my seat there was a sickly little girl lying in it with her mother.  I went across the aisle and sat with the French couple.  In front of us was a family with three little kids.  They were mesmerized by my laptop.  I showed them how to scroll through the pictures and we played a couple of the computer games for an hour or so.   

The little girl who entertained me

Showing the boys some good techno, DJ Tiesto

 

With about an hour left to go, the sick little girl stopped breathing.  Her mom freaked out.  Her brother started bawling.  Her dad started doing chest compressions.  Jealle, the French guy, jumped up to try and help.  I was sitting near the kids so Elodie and I tried to distract them with computers, balloons, and books to keep them from watching.  They got her breathing again, her eyes and arms started moving, and everything calmed down.

About thirty minutes later, it happened again.  I never saw her move her eyes or arms again.  I’m not sure if she made it.  I felt completely and utterly helpless.  The three of us sat in silence the rest of the train ride.  It was awful.

I spent a total of 12 hours in Delhi.  I had heard it wasn’t very nice so I decided to skip it.  I did walk around the morning I left and liked it more than I thought I would.  In Bombay, I had another great cab experience.  Some sketch ball tried to get me to walk over to his cab as I was coming out of the terminal.  I said “No thanks, I’m going to go catch one from the designated taxi stand.”  He kept following me and tried to help me with my luggage.  I eventually told him I didn’t want him touching my luggage and I wasn’t getting in a cab with him.  I headed to the taxi stand and negotiated with an auto rickshaw driver.  When we settled on a price, I hopped in the back.  Sketchball decided to get in the front seat. 

As we pulled out of the airport the driver told me that auto rickshaws couldn’t go into the city and I needed to take a cab.  Guess who volunteered theirs.  We stopped and Sketchball tried to grab my luggage to put it in the car.  I snatched it back and told him he was insane if he thought I was getting in a car with him.  Apparently Sketchball wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed because he thought that offering me 200 rupees ($5) would get me in the car.  I told him what I thought of his intelligence and asked the driver to leave.  He obliged and we pulled off.  Then the driver’s “friend” stopped by with his taxi so I could transfer to that one. 

By this time I had verified in Lonely Planet that auto rickshaws weren’t allowed in the city, so I got in.  He drove for about 45 minutes before having to stop for directions.  Apparently the directions were complicated because he came back to the cab and motioned for me to get out.  I looked over and another driver was giving him 150 rupees.  I had been sold for $2.50.  Another half hour later, I arrived at the President Hotel, which turned out to be fully booked.  I got in my fourth taxi and made my way to another hotel. 

The streets of Bombay

The Taj Palace Hotel with NYC style carriage rides out front

 

That night I met up with five other London Business School students who were from Bombay.  They were all great fun and upped my expectations of the upcoming London experience.  I did find a potential future flat mate in Rohan.  He had grown up in India, but had gone to graduate school at Dartmouth and worked in NYC for five years.  After several glasses of Indian red wine, a couple shots, and lots of stories, Rohan and I went in search of mango ice cream at 2am.  Seemed like a good idea to us at the time.  I think we’d do well as roommates.  From here it's to Dubai (via Paris as ridiculous as that is)

 

Other Adventures:

Australia

Antarctica Marathon

Great Wall of China Marathon

South Korea and Coastal China

Mt Everest Base Camp

Nepal

Tibet

Kilimanjaro

Tanzanian Safari

Ukraine

Romania

Hungary

Greece

Colombia

Peru