Sunday, March 16, 2014

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Why, during his two-week winter break, he was in India with me!

After picking Jonathan up at the Delhi airport on Christmas Eve, we headed straight to Mussoorie to partake in holiday festivities with staff members still remaining on the hillside.  We ventured into the bazaar to eat chocolate momos, ride a man-powered Ferris wheel, and see the remarkably clear views.  Seema came over to cook a special meal.

In return for all of these awesome new experiences, Jonathan introduced me to Ruzzle, an addictive word game that we played on one of those high-tech finger-tapping-devices all of these young’uns have nowadays.  It was nice to relax at home, essentially eating and Ruzzling our way through a couple of days, before setting off on our more adventurous adventures.

Himalayan River Runners base camp
Our first destination beyond Mussoorie was Rishikesh, a city known for its rafting, its ashrams, and its hippies.  We came for the rafting.  Winter is apparently not the best time for rafting, BUT this meant that we were the only people in the entire rafting camp.

I tried to explain to Jonathan that the Ganges River is worshiped and considered sacred—a personified “Mother Ganga”.  Then he defied all sanctity by deeming it a “MILF”…

“Mother I Like to Float on," sicko.

From Rishikesh, we took a train to Delhi.  The most notable aspect of our time in Delhi was a fortuitous meeting with one “Rick Von Shaw,” the fastest and most impressive rickshaw driver in all the land.  But the city was really just our launching pad to the Taj Mahal, which is located a few hours away in Agra.  I learned from the past and took my brother there in the afternoon, rather than during the foggy morning hours.  However, we soon realized that the nature of our relationship—to the untrained eye—appeared a bit ‘foggy.’  Behold the evidence:

I soon learned to greet others with a nonchalant, "This is my brother, hi."

From Delhi/Agra, we flew to Mumbai (aka Bombay) and, oh bombBABY, was it warm!  After spending a couple hours in a taxi, we finally found our guesthouse and meandered around Colaba (a touristy district jutting into the Arabian Sea) to get acquainted with the city and find lunch.  Jonathan ordered a hamburger for his first meal—not exactly India’s specialty—and vowed to go veg for the rest of the trip.  In other food news, I found the first real piece of cheesecake in India at Theobroma, just a street away from where we were staying. 

But there was plenty more to feast on in Mumbai than the food alone:  history, architecture, entertainment.  The highlight of Mumbai was our day trip to Elephanta Island, which was accessible via ferry.  There are cave temples on the island with ancient carvings from around the 5th century.  They were rediscovered by the Portuguese in the 17th century.

Jonathan and I "celebrated" New Year’s Eve on an overnight bus from Mumbai to Goa.  The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:30.  At 8:30, we were still the only ones on the bus and departure did not seem imminent.  Jonathan’s side of the sleeper berth was drenched in sweat and he was on the verge of heat-induced insanity; I was both disgusted and mildly intrigued by the efficiency of his pores.

Elephanta Caves
this is what the brink of hysteria looks like

At 9, we were herded off the bus, which had been suddenly "canceled."  At 9:01, we were pushed back onto the same bus, which had been miraculously reinstated.  Perhaps the sweating bout wasn’t entirely natural, because Jonathan got hit with some kind of bug just a few hours into the bus ride.  And then, we ran into a fish.  A Swedish fish.

In the early morning, we were roused by the sound of an English-speaking voice arguing with Hindi-speaking voices.  Whereas Indian train employees usually have some working knowledge of English, most bus drivers know approximately 3.5 words of English.  I tried to help my fellow Englishspeakingman.  I didn’t help him.  But he did follow us off the bus at our departure point of “Margao” (pronounced like “mad cow,” if you say it quickly enough).  We called him the Swedish Fish because he was an all-around fishy character who just happened to be Swedish. 

Over a noon o’clock beer on the shores of Agonda Beach, after verbally harassing the rickshaw driver who brought us there, the Swedish Fish divulged that he has “taken off from life” because he made a lot of money from a book about investing in Swedish art.  Now he lives in Spain.  That was as deep as his story went, but I deduced from personal experience that he also enjoys trying to steal others’ beach huts—oh, like the one below.  But I say GO FISH, you enigmatic asshole.

Agonda Beach hut

the 'bug' got worse, if you were wondering

Another train ride a few mornings later took us to Hampi, an more inland oasis known for its rocky landscape and superfluous temples.  It seemed almost otherworldly, both because of the scenery and the strange, transient inhabitants that put the hippies of Rishikesh to shame.  

Jonathan and I passed on other substances but we overdosed on our narcotic of choice—ice cream.  We rented bikes and our time in Hampi went something like this: pedal…temple…chocolate..pedal…temple…vanilla…pedal…temple…butterscotch…pedal…temple…let’s go to Bangalore!  Jonathan wanted to go to Bangalore to see a branch of the Timken Company, where he spent the last few summers interning as a computer engineer.  We spent just a handful of hours in Bangalore, which was enough time to complete our sole mission.

Mission: Get a Photo in Front of Timken Building

our taxi driver was amused; the Timken guard was confused

From Bangalore, we went to Kerala, a state in South India.  We started in Munnar, which was similar to Mussoorie in that there were rolling hills and beautiful views, but different in that those rolling hills were completely covered with tea bushes. 

After a morning trek, a day of sightseeing, and an evening of home-cooked goodness at our guesthouse (beneath a disco ball--for ambiance?!), we saw these gentle giants on our way out of Munnar:

Varkala Beach, situated on a steep cliff, was next on our itinerary.  Though a few days overdue, we celebrated New Year’s right this time around!  And when we weren’t drinking what the menu described as a "ping pusy cat," we were eating mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, and getting Ayurvedic massages, and body surfing huge waves.  However,  I saved the pinnacle experience of Kerala—an overnight boat ride on the backwaters—as our capstone adventure.  We bargained for a boat in Alleppey and spent the day sunning ourselves on the upper deck, eating pineapple, and waving to fellow tourists.  We spent the night watching a wonderfully terrible Bollywood movie and busting some moves under the (surprise!) disco ball.

Varkala Beach
on the houseboat

To conclude, I learned three lessons on this whirlwind tour of India:

1) Kerala has a bad case of disco fever.
2) Traveling with someone else, in general, is nice.
3) Traveling with my brother, in particular, is AWESOME.
this explains #3
this explains #2

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