Before I begin sending reports from our current India trip, I thought I would share my emails from India in 2004, thus allowing you to compare my trip responses from five years ago, with those I will soon be sharing.
Exhausted. End of my third full day in Bombay. All the locals call it Bombay, not Mumbai. At least the ones I know. Eating the most amazing home-cooked Indian meals. Nothing like anything I’ve had at any Indian restaurant anywhere in the US. And I’m told by my hosts that it is just simple home cooking. Now I understand why my Indian friends say it is the food they miss the most when they are in the States.
Hearing lots of great Hindi songs on the radio that I can’t wait to play at Andaz and Atlas when I get back. Bhangra is noticeably absent in Bombay; not that many Punjabis. Am staying with my friend Rajvi’s family. There is no room in Bombay because of the World Social Forum so we will have to move on soon so as not to overstay our welcome. Anju’s grandmother’s town awaits. Jabulpur? Jubalpur? Jabalpur? Sorry about that. This gringo is without a travel book at this computer.
It is so amazing to spend my time with locals. So much more involving than going from hotel to hotel and restaurant to restaurant like I did in Central America. Except for Livingston. (Hello, Marcos!) Not that that isn’t an amazing, expansive experience as well, I just feel very fortunate. In just a few days I have experienced so much and had so much insight into another world that I don’t think I could achieve with just a guidebook.
I hope everyone is well and hopeful about their future. Even if I were to return tomorrow I would never be the same again.
All my best,
Still making our way across India. Left Bombay after a week. Went to Aurungabad which was our base while we visited famous Buddhist and Hindu carved caves at Ellora and Ajanta. We are currently in Indore, only as a stopover on our way to the ruins of Mandu. From there we will come back through Indore on our way to Bhopal. Bhopal is a stopover on our way to the Buddhist stupas of Sanchi. From there we are on to Anju’s grandmother’s town of Jabalpur. From there things are much more open. After spending time with Anju’s family we will try to see either Kanha wildlife preserve or the famously erotic temple sculpture of Khajuraho, or both. Then up to Delhi for more family and then on to the Punjab. Depending on our time we will then fly all the way South to the beaches of Kerala and work our way North to Bombay from where we are departing.
Travel has its share of hassles but everything has worked out fine so far, although you can’t get too hung up about the money flying out of your pants if you want to have a good time. The home-cooked Gujrati dishes in Bombay have still been the best but we have discovered many other tasty bites. I’m trying every version of Gobi Manchurian I can get my hands on. Chinese food is very
My encouragement goes out to all of Local 5 in our contract struggle. I here things are continuing with a federal mediator. I can’t wait to get home and play the Indian CDs I am collecting. Much great dancing awaits.
My love to everyone,
Anju and I have been in some pretty remote places, some without even phone service, much less internet connections. Well, when I traveled to Central America I bragged that I didn’t have so much as a loose stool in two months even though I ate off the street for every meal. I was feeling a little more timid in India having read so much traveller’s health material before leaving. Well, my first night in Anju’s family home of Jabalpur I got a little too cocky. I ate some raw tomatoes in a fresh salad and got violently ill for an entire evening. I was laid out for the whole week. The good news was that I was laid up somewhere where Anju had family so she wasn’t held captive in a hotel room with nothing to do, but the bad part was that I didn’t end up spending that much time with her family. Anju ended up getting sick later in the week and I was afraid that as long as we stayed in Jabalpur we’d be passing the sick baton back and forth. Fortunately after getting waitlisted we managed to take a very comfortable train to Jhansi which was on the way to our current location: Khajuraho. Khajuraho is famous for its erotic temple sculpture and you get little boys on the street trying to sell you postcard books saying, “Hello, Kama Sutra.” We leave on Friday for Delhi where we will spend at least a week. We’re hoping to see some of the nightlife since we didn’t make it out to a single club our first week in Bombay.
I hope everyone is well. If anyone in Local 5 wants to send me bargaining updates I’d appreciate any info I can get. Thanks.
PS Recommended destinations in India: Mandu and Orchha. Spend at least 3 nights in both places. Remote and beautiful ruins, each in their own way.
I’m in New Delhi now. It’s been several days and the time passes very fast here. Because I haven’t been doing too much in the way of sightseeing (excepting the Lodi Gardens and Jantar Mantar) the city seems like one endless parade of varied shopping districts. Being aware of all the things that either a) exist only in India or b) are so much cheaper than in America or c) both unavailable otherwise and incredibly cheap, I feel a great compulsion to pick things up before my return to the states. Instead of Spiritual India it is more like Consumer India. I’ve even been to McDonalds twice which as Anju first stated is 2 more times than in the last decade. They have a separate all-veg kitchen and everything on the menu is either highlighted red for non-veg or green for veg. “Veg” and “Non-Veg” are the universal terms for describing your diet in India. The McAloo Tikki Burger is gross and only the McVeggie Burger with cheese is tolerable. The McDonalds’ corporate death machine has now acquired a couple more of my dollars in the service of destroying the earth. The fries weren’t even that warm. P.S. The first time was for curiosity (Punjabis in turbans behind the counter) the second time was because Anju’s cousins wanted to eat there.
The World Book Fair just happens to be in New Delhi right now all this week. We made it tonight. An hour and a half and we barely scratched the surface of thousands of publisher booths and several gigantic halls in a gargantuan conference center of some sort. Despite how slick everything was the bathrooms were something else entirely. Bathrooms in India are always an interesting experience.
THE FOLLOWING IS GROSS
The first bathroom had an inch of water, didn’t flush and shit was smeared on the walls. I tried one in a different complex and the tank had been broken in half and was leaking all over the floor, a fresh load sitting in the basin. Needless to say that one didn’t flush either. There was no soap in the dispensers. This is at the World’s largest gathering of book publishers. Just a little bit of India for you there, folks. I could actually write quite a bit about the bathrooms of India but I feel they are about to kick me out of this internet cafe because it’s closing time. Oh yeah, you’re always surprised to find toilet paper because most people use the faucet and bucket method. I have to admit I’ve gained some facility but it is rarely my first choice. I don’t know how they manage to dry before getting dressed.
Thanks to everyone who wrote with housing suggestions. I’m still in the market.
The Incredible Kid
Anju and I have finally made it to the Punjab. Because of how close we are getting to the end of our trip we didn’t know if we would have time. We are in Chandigarh and that is the only city we will be able to see. The city was designed by Le Corbusier and it reminds me of American housing projects more than anything. The greens of the trees are beautiful and give a hint of the legendary fertile soils of the Punjab. We went to the Nek Chand Rock Garden today. It is a famous construction of recycled materials, lots of porcelain-mosaic people creations and beautiful walks through organic molded concrete walls and the occasional deceptively realistic molded concrete trees blending in with the real ones. Much nicer and cooler than I thought it would be.
Since we are here in the middle of the week we are missing out on any bhangra parties. We just missed a Jazzy B concert by 3 days. He is Vancouver-born, UK-residing and actually popular in India unlike almost all bhangra not “folky” and native to Punjab. Our friend DJ Rekha regaled us with stories of a show of his she saw on the East coast and given how much of his music we have been hearing blasted every day in Delhi it is quite disappointing to realise we missed a show of his, and in Punjab no less.
We are in the home stretch of our trip. We are returning to Delhi tomorrow and we fly to Pune on the 26th. Pune is a hip university/IT town with a great party scene apparently. We will meet up with our friend Rajvi there for a few days. Then we return to Bombay for a few days before flying back to Portland. There were times when it seemed like the trip would last forever but it is quickly coming to an end. I realize some people take vacations that are shorter than how much time we have left but when you watch 6 weeks fly by so quickly it is hard to see it as great deal of time. For those that care we will be playing at Holocene on March 6th shortly after we return for our international night, “Atlas.”
I mention so little of this trip that if you have any particular questions feel free to ask. Thanks for reading.
Well, Anju and I have less than a week left in India. We are currently in the college/OSHO city of Pune, Maharashtra. We are visiting friends and preparing to return to Bombay tomorrow for the final days of our trip. Our friend Shreeyash introduced us to his friend Marzban who runs a Denon DJ school/DJ Equipment Rental/Ad Agency/Hi-Fi Salon in Pune. They certify Indian DJs here. Everyone plays house/trance/techno. No one has any interest in Indian music here because it is the constant background noise of their existence. Outside of weddings there appears to be little interest in dancing to Hindi or Punjabi music although DJ Arjun in New Delhi hinted at weekday parties for the hardcore. We’ve only heard bad “Western” music at the few clubs we’ve experienced.
Some thoughts for those considering a trip to India:
1) All the food will be made very bland for you unless you are fortunate enough to eat in people’s homes. Anju and I have only found one restaurant in all our journeys that would serve us moderately spicy food though we begged and pleaded every time we ate. They completely change the recipes for Westerners, it’s not even a matter of taking out some of the chilies.
2) Most restaurants serve Punjabi food which is the same food considered “Indian” food in the states since it was the Punjabis who populated the world after fleeing Partition in 1947. You will see many of the same dishes you are used to in the states although unfortunately many of the restaurants here (even recommended ones) can’t even prepare edible roti. Restaurants from the cheapest to the most expensive are consistently disappointing. Too much can not be said about the vast superiority of home cooking.
3) Vegetarians can eat soup in India (It’s very popular and many varieties are on every menu.) because the broth is always vegetable broth.
4) There are many, many beggars, from rapscallion children to mothers with small children to lepers to hunchbacks to the limbless. One is constantly confronted with poverty and desperate pleas for money. No
matter how you respond it never feels good. Nothing changes the lives of these many millions or the overall situation.
5) You will not believe the driving at first but you will soon feel comfortable crossing the median into oncoming traffic while dodging cows, pedestrians, scooters, auto rickshaws and other cars. So far we have only collided with one scooter in an cycle rickshaw. We escaped with bruised knees.
6) If you are white you are a target. People will constantly try to sell you something or get something from you. People will either be incredibly rude or try to convince you they’re you’re friend.
7) Things are so polluted the sun usually disappears long before it
hits the horizon.
8) There are always fireworks and loud marching bands because these always accompany weddings.
9) I have a hard time understanding Indian English, Indians have trouble understanding me, and I often can’t tell if I’m being spoken to in Hindi or English.
10) If you plan to travel in Central or Northern India take the time to learn some Hindi. I feel like you are not even considered human until you show that you know some Hindi. Until then you are just fleshly transport for your wallet.
11) I hope to be back for much longer periods of time. There is far, far too much to see in several months. India is amazing.