Sunday, February 26, 2006


Hey guys!!! You will never believe what we got to do today!!!
Well for starters... some lady stopped mom on the street and told her that Bollywood productions needed more extras in a movie shoot for the next morning. We decided that it would be great fun, and BONUS money. We were picked up at 6:30am along with 45 other white foreigners. The set was on an airplane. As extras we were told to sleep, listen to music, read, mime talk, relax and enjoy the fake flight. We were fed breakfast, lunch, tons of chai, drinks, and snacks. I loved it!!! Plus, I've been thinking maybe I should be a flight attendant when I go home. ahah There were the crazy parts.................... like the part when we had to film the nightmare scene. OOOooooOOOOoo scary. We all had the weirdest masks on while red lights flashed, a huge fan blowing everything around, oxygen masks and cords hanging out, total chaos. Savannah and I were having fun with the acting. Although lots of the time we were outside waiting around and being pampered or being told "Everyone quiet on set". I always wanted to hear the word "ACTION"!
So much Fun!!!! I've had my debut in the movie industry. Call us super stars from now on!! Wink wink nudge nudge. hehe

The funniest thing that happened with Paul is.......Well how do I put this? Right after we picked him up, we all were walking down the street together but quite spread out. I guess it hadn't really hit me yet that he was actually with us. I remember looking up and thinking to my self "Hey, that guy really looks like Paul". Seconds later I realized I was an idiot and laughed my head off. So did the others when I told them. The other funny thing he did was when we were at the caves. Some guys were trying to sneak pictures of us (AGAIN). So Paul leaped up and jumped in front of the camera to protect us girls. That was pretty dang funny, we all laughed so hard because we didn't know what he was doing at first, we hadn't even seen the camera.
Just picture Paul flying though the air........ ahahahahha. What a character. I think we are running him into the ground. Boys are wimps anyways. Yey, girls kick butt!!

Having a great time still, but we are tired of India so we are planning on leaving very soon. Thanks Sandra for sending all our goodies with Paul! You're the Best!
Missing you guys, don't change too much.
Give us comments!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Paul's arrival

Well, it just seems that everyone is tougher than we thought. We picked up Paul at the airport in Bombay and immediately started the "see how long 'til he dies" treatment but he is still alive and not even complaining yet! First we did the 1 day Bombay blitz. Honestly there isn't much to do aside from seeing the British architecture. 1 day was enough. That city is still massive though. Very different from the rest of India with no tuk-tuks in the center and way more private vehicles causing traffic on the road. His first night was an overnight train of only 7 hours northeast up to Jalgaon from where we took off to see the Ajanta caves before spending the night in Aurangabad. The next day was another round of caves, this time the Ellora ones.
By caves I am talking about temple caves carved into the side of cliffs in the middle of nowhere. I suppose at the time it was somewhere but now it's just hot, dry and dusty. Summer has started out here with temperatures already up to 38C! The caves were interesting, personally I like the Ellora ones much better. Ajanta caves are much older (up to 2000 years old), Buddhist caves known for their painting work on the walls. Ellora's caves on the other hand are more scuptural and consist of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples side by side. Ellora also has the world's largest monolithic structure carved out of the side of the cliff. It's a full temple complex and not a cave (despite being listed as cave 16). Very cool but at the same time very similar to the Cloud Ridge caves that we saw in China. The following day it was a 24 hr ride to Delhi where we've just arrived and will be for at least the next few days.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

General India thoughts

I try to describe what's out here and I know it is heavily skewed toward places and not people so I thought I'd try to give you a better idea of who's out here too. It's hard though because it's useless to say they are "funny looking" or describe what they wear. We were kicking around Rajastan for a while and it is what most people think of as "real" India as is it what most tourists see. While I disagree with that sentiment, I'll leave my arguments aside this time. Rajastan has the hot, dry, dusty, very dirty, crowded cities with tons of touts, scams, cheap guesthouses and the like that most people come to expect from India. And they are not disappointed. It's not all bad though and the major draw are the numerous exotic maharaja palaces, walled old cities (some uniquely coloured), huge forts with histories of numerous battles, camel safaris, colourful costumes and turbans (more so than other parts of India), excessive piercings, strong cultural traditions and lots of local festivals and weddings. You gotta love a place where any colour combination goes and mixing of all instruments and rhythms at once is called "music". In short it's the place that gives India much of it's reputation and the tourists love to hate. By Indian standards, Rajastan is a mess. It's below average in important categories like wealth, life expectancy and literacy and it shows. Jaipur is the dirtiest place we've been to on this trip and Jodhpur the smoggiest. Being so close to Pakistan there is a large mix of muslims as well as hindus and we are still trying to sort out all the differences. The muslims in India seem to have adopted a lot of extra cultural baggage here than in other countries.
Honestly, women are treated quite poorly in general. Almost all marriages are arranged, with girls married betwee the ages of 13-21 and guys typically in their mid-20s. Although their systems are totally opposite (Muslim men "buy" their wives while Hindu families pay to get rid of their daughters) they both somehow manage to insult the female. The women will live in the villages and the men work in town so that they rarely see each other except to increase the population, and they are doing a good job of that too. The population explosion here is scarily obvious with almost every girl carrying a small child.
The entire young male population here seems to be a group of sleezy punks and have such obvious sexual problems it's disgusting. Everywhere we go we are followed by groups of them staring. If we are sitting on a train all day our compartment is inevitably twice as full as any other with these guys just stopping to crowd around and stare as soon as they spot us. They also do a lot of blatently obvious sneaking around to take pictures too, when they have a camera which is fortunately not all that often. They'll come running up beside you and put their arm around one of the girls while a friend jumps out from behind a bush and snaps a picture. You can see it coming a mile away and the girls have had some laughs punching these guys as they try their stunts. You have to be thick skinned or totally naive to it all. I'd hate to be a woman here and don't think I'd travel here with my wife as I'd be too compelled to strangle someone. It's bad enough as it is some days. What's the most irritating is how pathetic their skills are with women. They have no "training" as they'll just get an arranged marriage someday to a very submissive wife so there is no incentive to learn anything about females. The best they can come up with is acting like a group of immature 12 year olds when they are actually 20 or so, or, my favourite, saying (very tactfully) to some western lady twice their age "Today is my 18th birthday, wouldn't you like to pleasure me? We'll keep it a secret from your husband." What the hell? Honestly, I kid you not this stuff happens out here. They have a very extreme interpretation of the belief that western women are "looser" than Indian ones? Yeah, it's generally true but damn. It's something that exists throughout India but where there is a lot more tourist/Indian interaction it is worse. Really it's not that bad though unless you crazy enough to think about it all the time. There is never any violent aspect to any of it and we have always felt safe doing whatever we wanted.
As it is a Hindu symbolic thing, many of the men out here have earrings and almost all have moustaches. As part of our attempt to get into the culture here I now have a moustache too. I hate it but the girls insist. Another strange thing that people do is insist and almost demand that you take a picture of or with them. You have to use your camera and then show it to them afterwords and then they walk off happy. That's all there is to it so I don't know why they are so obsessed. Beggars, oh yeah, everywhere. They target the tourists and stand in front of you for 5 times as long as they will a local, even if you tell them to go away like the locals do. Often on trains they won't leave until an Indian passenger tells them to leave us alone. But at least the beggars are well behaved and are not threatening, rude or whatever, like I've seen in some other countries.
The other people travelling out here? That's a totally different mess. Mostly hippies (young and some very old originals). Everyone seems obsessed with yoga and Tibetan stuff. Unfortunately it's a sentiment and interest we can't possibly share after our previous experiences.

Down and almost out

Well, it finally happened. I got sick on this trip. It started in Junagadh when I wasn't feeling well and had to take a day off. Still wasn't feeling great when we got to the coast and the temple of Somnath, supposedly the spot where the universe was created. Nice, but heavily guarded, temple and we took it easy and drank coconuts on the little strip of sandy beach just outside the temple. It reminded me a lot of Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India actually. I don't know if it was a state-wide problem or just a regional one, but it was really hard to find toilet paper there. Impossible to find in Junagarh and only one store in Veraval/Somnath. No tissue paper either so we were on some pretty tight rations before we found that one store....
From Somnath we started yet another transport marathon, this time involving multiple trains and buses and a brief stop in Bombay (damn it's huge and busy). After 50 hrs we finally made it to Hampi, a small village 8 hrs east of Goa.
Hampi is Khao San rd. or Thamel in the bush. Tons of people come and stay here, often for a long time, and I don't blame them. It's beautiful here. Once the capital of the Vijayanagar empire (14-16th century), there are lots of ruins scattered about in the surrounding countryside. Countryside consisting of hills of huge boulders, banana plantations, palm trees, a little river and lots of "wildlife" including massive mosquitoes. The day after Alysha left us, I got really sick again. My best guess is Giardia and after a couple days stuck in bed I gave up and got on the heavy duty drugs. Now, feeling better, we are planning to finally head down to Gokarna beach tomorrow. It's a little south of, and a lot quieter than, Goa. We'll be there for a few days before picking up Paul from the Bombay airport on the 20th.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

My First Evers - Alysha

In the streets of India...
I could wirte of elaborate temples, diverse landscapes, life-size floating castles and sand castles, or cultural diversity in general but still the words would probably escape me. So, I want to say alittle something about what I have seen in the streets of India because I think it would give some insight to what I have seen with the Watkins these past three weeks. It began in New Delhi, where I saw my first ever publicly roaming cow whose horns nearly struck me as I drove into the city from the airport in my first ever tuk-tuk ride. Next, we moved to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and I stared down at the street the next morning from our hotel balcony. It was this day when my jaw dropped as I noticed for the first time ever, a city with barely any women. I saw a dirt road filled with tuk-tuks, a variety of livestock, sellers' carts and men. On the streets of Bikaner I saw my first ever camel (instead of an ox) pulling a grain cart on the main road. Their shear size made me think of myself in a time of domesticated dinosaurs. In Jaisalmer I recieved my first ever Indian name, Sapna, from my 12 year old camel driver, Raman, or as I thought of him: my adopted son. I miss him already. In Udaipur I saw my first ever elephant walking down the street. It was painted and decorated as if it didn't need any more attention. In the streets of Veraval I saw my first ever showing of a man lying by the side of the road, belly down, head buried deep in the dirt, sweeping and wiggling as to submerge further. I am still curious about this one. On the way back in roughly the same place, we saw a goat giving birth, overlooked and faded into the goings on. In Somnath I saw my first ever Message In A Coconut, thrown into the Indian Ocean aimed for Tanzania. I'm beginning to think that Indians arent the only crazy people in this world. I'm not going to mention any names, ok Savannah? ok. From here I experienced my first ever 50 hour transportation extravaganza, however typical of a Watkins pass time this is, the ten plus modes of transport was surely a first ever for me. In a train station in Bombay, I saw my first ever Indian five-second train stop, where I was compressed on all sides by humans leaping on and off the train. This is my new definition for 'the wrong place at the wrong time'. On the streets of Hampi I saw my first ever goat strung upside down by its back legs hanging from a tree. Another mystery.
Back to the streets: Over the course of the past three weeks I have seen one particular reoccuring sight in these streets of India. Because I am a dreamer/drifter/over-stimulated wanderer I often find myself picking up the rear behind a well-oiled backpacking quartet. Ammon, the tallest beakon and token male in front, constantly waving the back of his hand at tuk-tuk drivers, laughing at their ridiculous price proposals. Maggie, with her full bag of green peas as if it were popcorn, marking our path with a green trail of empty shells. Bre marching with ease being a good trooper. And Savannah, always creating new and witty responses (that always make me laugh) to the overly asked questions of the curious children following and poking her. I see a quartet of seasoned, fun travellers and I feel lucky to have had so many 'first ever' experiences in their company. Now it is back to China for me, I'll miss you! -Alysha

Friday, February 03, 2006


Well Shean, the pop actually does have a slightly different taste from country to country ( ust like Canadian and American pepsi does too!). In the touristy areas you can usually get both coke and pepsi. Most remote areas either have ONLY pepsi or ONLY coke not both. It's almost always a gaurantee that they'll have some sort of cola product! Unfortunately NO one has Dr. Pepper although I did get one in Cochin! Heheh, that's only because Sandra brought it with her ;) !! Savannah says that if you like orange pop, the Fanta in China was the best for sure (as well as their yoghurt)!
Bruce, as far as bugs go.....well there have been very few. We do see cochroaches everywhere from tiny to big but they're just there and don't really bother us. I think the worst case was on a train from Kolkata to Trivandrum. We see lots of mosquitos in the south of India. Dungbeetles in the desert. No spiders except for the monster one Ammon chased from under his bed all night long in Chitwan, Nepal. Rats are commonly found running around on the streets. Mice in restaurants and hotel rooms are also a regular event. That's just the way it is in most of these countries! Lots of cute beetles in all sizes and lizards. I guess that's about it.
Today we are in Junagadh wandering about without Ammon because he's in bed whining (Can you believe it!?). Hopefully he'll be feeling better in a few days. Otherwise we'll leave him there, hhaha!! We all feel fine so we don't know what his problem is! Nothing serious I'm sure. Keep the comments coming we're really enjoying them. We now know that 17 at least are following along! Yyahoo....
Talk to you all again soon,
Maggie the mom

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur = Gold, Blue, White

As it was quiet, cheap and very pretty, we stayed a few days longer in Jaisalmer that originally planned. I've passed over a bunch of the planning/routing duties to Alysha as she is on the tighter schedule. Alysha has brought a much needed boost of enthusiasm to the group, always eager to see and try something new. On days when the girls are not feeling up to much sightseeing, the 2 of us will set off to see what we can find, with our journey about town almost always ending up doing something unexpected. A couple of times now we've been invited into someone's home for a chat, tea, meal, or even a quick yoga lesson! Things are always exciting with Alysha around.
As I've said before, Jaisalmer is known as the golden city as everything is built from the same desert sandstone, and there is a great sandcastle fort overlooking town. 1/4 of the population lives inside the cramped buildings and narrow streets within the fort and while many tourists stay inside, we chose to stay outside and enjoy the view of, rather than from, it. There are also beautifully carved stone sculptures and latticework on the buildings around town and expecially on the Jain temples in the area. We all unanimously agree that Jain temples are the nicest to look at. Jainism is an old religion that branched off from Hinduism the same time Buddhism did but retains much stronger ties. The people are very peaceful, refusing to wear leather and are pure vegetarians.
Jaisalmer exists now solely as a tourist town and in support of the military patrolling the nearby border with Pakistan. There are numerous bases in the area, the roads are kept in great shape (definately an Indian rarity) and the airport is now used only for military aircraft so there is a constant sound of jets flying overhead. While there, we met many other backpackers including a Canadian couple from Vancouver (Ray and Sally) and a Brazilian guy (Bruno) with whom we travelled to Jodhpur. It turns out that Ray was at the trilogy tuesday of Lord of the Rings in the same theatre we were! Small world.
Jodhpur, the blue city, is blue, but only in the old town and you have to angle your camera just right to make it look fully blue. It is however the bluest I've ever seen a town. It is a cool site to see from up above. The highlight of Jodhpur were the lassis though. Lassis are a yoghurt drink made sweet, salty or with various combinations of fruit inside. Bre is the group junkie. In Jodhpur they make excellent, thick sweet lassis with saffron and cardomom. Otherwise, I didn't like Jodhpur and we only spent 1 full day there. I've never been allergic to a city before but I think I was to this one as I was constantly sneezing and finding it hard to breathe. Surprisingly, it also had the worst air pollution I've ever seen though it's only got 1 million people. Alysha and I went on a walk the first evening to check things out and I've heard of fog but not when it was a thick black cloud between the buildings at the end of the street. It was like staring down the hallway to hell..... Needless to say, we got back choking with burning eyes.
On our 1 full day we attempted to see a few things in between our lassi breaks. Jodhpur has a massive fort on the main hill overlooking town but again, as it is overpriced and we'd heard rumors that there was a back route in, the 8 of us went looking for it. We never found it but got distracted talking to the people taking care of some temples near the fort. I don't think they get many visitors as they are most of the way up the hill and on the opposite side of the main entrance to the fort. So we sat and chatted a while and had more free tea (my personal record is 3 in a day). As I said, we never found a secret entrance though we checked the whole thing. We couldn't sneak in the front entrance either though maybe if I'd continued my "I'm escorting Jackie Chan and need free tickets" story at the front gate a little longer it might've come to fruition.... You just can't take things here too seriously. I spend lots of time harrassing beggars and taxi drivers with crazy stories to keep myself amused instead of getting angry. Something I guess I picked up from dad. You could easily write a book on this topic alone. There are only 2 ways I can see of successfully dealing with them. 1. Don't acknowledge them at all. 2. Control the conversation, see if you can confuse them then walk away while their stunned. My finest moment was giving a beggar kid in Sri Lanka a "magic rock" and running away while he stood there trying to figure out how to use it. From Jodhpur we caught a bouncy 7hr bus south-east to Udaipur, the white city of Rajastan. Just like Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner, Udaipur suffers from city wide power outages for 3-4 hrs every morning as part of a rerouting of power to other areas. They say rural areas but it is also to Delhi and Bombay.... Rather than a fort, Udaipur is famous for it's huge palace complex and all the nearby palaces including one built on an island in the lake in the middle of town. Most of the palaces have been converted to hotels now and access is restricted. Yesterday we went to a cultural dance program, you gotta love a country where people dance with 9 pots balanced on their head. Again, in the intrests of time, we've only spent 1 full day in Udaipur and tonight we take the train south to Ahmedabad and on to Gujarat state for a change. I'm looking forward to getting out of this main tourist route of Rajastan and back to the quieter side of India. Food here has been about 3 times the price of everywhere else, simply because it is all tourist restaurants. Yes, I'm complaining about 10 cents again......