Living the dream.

Before we get truly rolling on this entry, lets quickly review James' list of things to do before he dies...

In no particular order...

I've got the living in Japan thing pretty much down, and the tie clip was a piece of cake. This year though, I finally took the big plunge and headed off to make another dream come true... India. As per usual D was my traveling partner, and he did a great job tracking down cheap tickets. We got round trip to Delhi for about 500 bucks. All we had to do was have a stopover in Tai Pei, and our flight returning left Delhi at like 1am, but a small price to pay for the cheap ticket...

First of all, let me give you a piece of advice; if you have to smuggle something into Asia, enter through Tai Pei. We came off the plane from Tokyo, and had to re clear a security check. It was late at night, so there was a single guard working the security point. D and I had bought "adventure belts" as we dubbed them (cheap belts made of canvas; leather is taboo in certain places...) and we discovered in Tokyo that the large metal buckles would set off the detector.

We put our bags on the belt. D stepped through.


He stopped waiting for the guard to react, but he just sat there.

The next guy stepped through.


I knew D's belt would go off, but I have no Idea what that guy was packing...

He also waited for the guard to react.

Finally I stepped through.


Now there are three of us standing in a tight bunch just beyond the metal detector. Finally the guard reacted. He raised a hand to wave us to get out of the way. So we picked up our x-rayed bags, and left. Making jokes the whole way afterwards about the "strict" security.

You all know my traveling partner, the D in "round the world with D and Kuma" Seen here enjoying a coke in the airport of Tai Pei.

I had a mung milkshake. I kid you not. Mung bean. The woman at the counter couldn't believe I ordered one. "You really want that?" she even let me try it before I bought it...

Mung aint that bad... I don't know what Wayne and Garth were complaining about...

D compares our straws.

Sure his is longer... but mine is thicker.


We flew China airlines, (A welcome step up from Iran Air) and let me tell you, the food was to die for. Please notice again, like on air Iran, Steel cutlery was provided, including a knife.

North Americans are cowards.

Now here's the think about our trip. We planned to see 3 cities; Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. These three cities account for the lions share of tourism in India, and are closely located together in the north of India. As such they are known as the 'golden triangle'. There are tons of package tours available that hit these towns, but we found it cheaper to work it out ourselves, finding plane tickets, hotels, and even learning the ins and outs of the Indian Rail system via the Internet.

The first problem we had to face was the order we found the cities in... Our plane landed at like 1am. We figured it would take some time to clear customs and get our luggage, and then get into town. As such we figured that we would arrive in Delhi proper around 3am. It burned me up that we were gonna have to pay for a full days hotel when we were only using a portion of it... and then it hit me... We could head from the Airport straight to the train station and head straight to Jaipur, and start our trip there... Might as well spend the 7 hours on a train rather than in a hotel room... so we booked tickets on the Shatabdi Express leaving at 5am the day of our arrival. We had to go through a travel agent to get the tickets which was a good thing for a few reasons... 1) They were able to get us on a waiting list for the one train that was sold out. 2) They only charged a 1 US dollar commission per ticket. 3) for 25 bucks US they would courier the tickets to Japan, of for 18, pick us up at the airport and deliver the tickets and drive us to the station. Naturally, we elected for that package. Part of me was worried that we would get off the plane and discover that we had chosen a fake company, and would be without tickets or ride, but we figured that even if that happened, we were out a total of 80 bucks, and would move on.

As per usual my lack of faith was unjustified. When we cleared customs at Indira Ghandi airport, there was the little man, holding a sign with my name on it. He took our bags and led us to a little air-conditioned car. He gave us our tickets and headed into town. It took being in the country 7 minutes to see my first cow by the roadside, happily munching away on garbage. What we didn't expect, and were pleasantly surprised by was that he didn't take us to the station. We pulled into a small hotel. "Your train at 5, now it is only 2. Go in, eat, refresh yourselves, at 4, I will take you to the station." Great. Beats waiting for 3 hours on the platform.

My first meal in India. Mutton Biryani. That is a spicy saffron rice with giant chunks of the most tender mutton you have ever had inside. Off to the right top is a small bowl of a cool, minty, yogurt sauce. Tons of saffron, coriander, cumen, you name it! DELICIOUS!

Andy elected for the Croque Monsier, mostly for nostalgic purposes... I think I got the better deal...

It is a shame that I arrived at Delhi station so late, so that I couldn't capture the true state of the station on film (or memory. I suppose I will have to let the tale draw the picture in your mind.

OK, so we've been in India for about 4 hours now, and so far we've had to deal with the airport and the hotel, both tourist friendly places. Now we had to deal with the station. The car pulled up into a crowded chaotic parking lot, like you would imagine and as we stepped out of the car the reality of where we were finally dawned on me. Transients sleeping on blankets on the middle of the traffic islands, Painted monks and holy men passed out on the sidewalks, family with children, none of whom had shoes or slippers... We were in India. Making our way past the few beggars operating at this hour, we headed out to the platform. Past mangy dogs, and people sleeping wrapped in filthy blankets. I have no doubt that some of them doubled as their clothes. We found a clean bench to sit down on and set about staring out into the morning. As the sun came up people started to wake up, show up, and we could get some more detail on our location. I noticed a rat scurrying along the tracks. I pointed it out to D. "Check it out, Rat on the tracks."

"Oh yeah." Just after he said that he turned his head to the left and noticed a rat emerging from a hole in the floor not 4 feet to his left. That coupled with the dead cockroach lying nearby caused us to both check our bags a little closer for "taggers on." Finally the sun came up, and our train arrived. We booked the highest class tickets would could on every train. We knew that traveling coach was dirt cheap, but the thing about coach is that there are several concessions that you can use to save even more money. While there are some like "monk and Holy person" there was also some like "amputee" and "Leper" It was the leper concession that made us think, you know, maybe we can just spring the extra 10 bucks...

It turns out it was more than worth it. Our first train was from Delhi to Jaipur, on the first class of the Shatabdi Express.

We were hoping for a clean seat in a mildly air conditioned cabin. That is all we could have hoped for. Well let me tell you something...

Anyone who claims that the first class service on the Shatabdi express is anything less than fantastic is a bloody liar.

We received comp newspapers, two servings of tea, a warm breakfast, lunch, snacks... all in all some sort of food or drink came by every 30 minutes. We sat there, very happy with our lot, feeling very much the part of the wealthy new worlders in India.

Nothing makes you feel more like a rich British man in India than a ride on the Shatabdi. Well, maybe a ride on the orient express...

As you can see they are good enough to clearly label it so you know it is good food.

While we were happy inside the view on the outside told a different story. I sat there and watched sun blasted earth and long rolling plains of dead grass march by. Villages made of garbage, populated by houses made of the finest pieces of that garbage; roofs held in place by heavy stones placed on top of them. Mud huts, stray animals, and often skeletal remains of once great and large buildings, now windowless, walless husks of what they once were. Cows wandered by looking for food. People wandered by looking for food. Some of them looked well fed, they were wandering around looking for something to do I guess. A pretty sad state.

There is a theory espoused by some over here, that here in Asia, which is populated beyond what one can imagine never having strayed from home, that the human life just doesn't have as much value. I am not sure if that holds true, but I do think that people aren't even close to as scared about getting a bit hurt. Places where we would have shoulder bars, they have seatbelts, places where we would have seatbelts, they have handles to hold on to. Places where we would have guard rails, they have nothing.

Here I am seen leaning out of a moving train a little bit.

After the train ride we caught a Tuk-Tuk (small 2 stroke, 3 wheeled cab) to the more than clean enough Hotel Holiday inn Jaipur.

Featuring an open roof, and beautiful indoor corridor, often filled with the jingling bells of some Indian dancer, or the sounds from some Indian wind instrument.

The room was plenty clean and comfortable. We didn't stop here long though. It was time to get our there and see some of India.

Our first stop was the Jaipur city palace. Jaipur is known as the pink city. So many of its buildings are of a pinkish brown clay. The city palace now houses several museums.

The main building (once the residence of the princess) now houses two museums. One to textiles and silk, the other to weapons. It is a sad thing that photography is forbidden inside. The silks were impressive, the weapons were literally Awesome. All form of scimitars, sabers, shields, and dirks covered every available spot on the wall. Blunderbusses, elephant guns, and hand cannons adorned the corners. More Katars than you could imagine, some with hold out flintlock pistols built in were laid out on tables and in glass shelves. Short bows, Crossbows, short spears, and harpoons were plentiful. Finally, scattered among the rest were some exceptional pieces only a trained eye, or DND player, could catch. Military picks, war hammers, Becs de corbin, mancatchers, and even the odd stilletto were to be found. It was truly awesome.

Man has created some wonderful and terrible things with which to undo himself. Most of them can be seen here.

Large gates where men in traditional dress wait to take their picture with you divide the palace into sections. In doing this they obligate you to give them some money.

This photo cost me 10 rupees.

10 rupees is almost insultingly low, but I was in the mood to insult, as I posed with one man and the other two slid in as D was focusing.

This was my first lesson in Indian Economics, but more on that later...

The walls of this outdoor palace are now covered with a few spears and shields and swords. Arranged into decorative patters, they look quite out of place alongside the sculptured ceiling and large brass censures.

Finally we decided to stop and eat. We felt that it was a better ideal to eat in the palace (where we knew the food would be expensive but likely safe) from outside, where we had no idea what we were getting. Plenty of Nan, and a bowl of far to spicy chicken curry were my lunch. Delicious, but, ummm... how to put this...

Indian food does not generally stay in ones ward for long...

While we (the only tourists in the restaurant) were eating a boy we say outside came in to do a traditional Indian Dance for us. The dance lasted about 3 minutes and they were awkwardly long. While his rhythm and dancing were great, there was a bit too much... umm... homosexual winking... whenever you looked up to see he immediately made eye contact with you, winked and flashed a smile that seemed to say "Yeah, I'm THAT kind of little boy."

We tipped him too little for his effort, as we were still new to the place, and deep down I don't think either of us wanted to risk tipping well and having him keep dancing...

Once we were done we wanted to head back to the hotel. We ran into a cabbie named "shake". He spoke excellent English, and was pretty young and energetic. He was happy to show us this book that other people have written saying stuff like.. "If you are reading this you have the best driver in Jaipur! I was here for 4 days and he showed me around... blah blah blah. He went on and on about them. To me they all read the same way;

"If you are reading this, you are reading the testimony of an unaware idiot tourist with way more money than common sense. I was in town for four days, and Shake plied me with witty comments, compliments and jokes, and took me everywhere, relieving me of more than the fair cost of the trip as we went. He knew all the best places to shop, and I got some great bargains on low quality goods made by his friends that he received a kickback for. Since I don't know better I was happy to pay 10 American dollars for a blanket that would cost me 15 in America and Every Indian buys for 2. He is also cute and I am female, so my judgment is also clouded by that..."

He went on and on. "You can call me shake, like shake your booty! Or shake like Milkshake. I had to bite my tongue to avoid yelling "I'M GONNA START CALLING YOU SHAKE LIKE, 'I'M GONNA SHAKE YOU TILL YOU START MAKING SENSE!' " Luckily D was doing the talking.

"So, " Shake as in 'Shake and Bake' asked," You guys wanna do some shopping? I know good places."

Here we go.

"There are four things you can buy here, " Shake as in 'Shake my fists in rage' went on, "Textiles, pottery, jewelry, and ..."

I honestly forget what he said. Truth be told, D wanted a bed cover, and I wanted some cool Indian pajamas, so we thought looking at some textiles would be a good idea. D laid down the rules.

"You know a good textiles market " D as in 'my name is D, not some dumbass catchphrase asked."

"Yeah dudes!" Shake as in 'shake it like a Polaroid picture responded.

"You're not just gonna take us to some shop owned by a friend of yours, are you?"

"No, good market," Shake as in Shake for me girl, I wanna be your backdoor man responded."

So off we went. We passed the hotel on the way, and not more than half a kilometer past the hotel he turned into an alley where there stood a single textiles shop. The owner recognized shake immediately. A friend no doubt. We played along for a bit, sitting and watching him lay out bedcover after bedcover in ever increasing amounts and qualities for us. Finally D had had enough. We needed to move on. We left, refusing a cab ride and elected to walk back from there. D was pissed. Anyone can be swindled, if someone honestly outbargains us, so be it. The fact that Shake did EXACTLY what D asked ahead of time if he would do, really pissed D off. Rightfully so. So if you end up in Jaipur and some guy walks up and says "Hey Dudes, I'm Shake as in "Shake, Shake, Shake Senora, Shake your body line" Assume he is a villain and move on.

A typical street in India, within a few hundred feet of our hotel.

By this point we had been awake more or less since Tokyo, and were getting beat. You can't do it all the first day. There is our hotel. We decided it was best to hit the hay, and get back at it tomorrow.

On to Day 2