Thursday, January 31, 2013


Oh, India. We have had such an amazing time here, we don't want to leave.  It seems we've hardly scratched the surface of all this incredibly intense, sprawling country has to offer. And we certainly have not drank nearly enough lassis.

From the boat trips, the sadhus, the handlebar mustaches to the incredible food, the Taj, the camels (did we mention the camels?), and the incredible people we met, India is a one-of-kind destination that exceeded our expectations on so many levels.

We will be back...someday.

Incredible handlebar mustachioed man at the milk market in Jaipur.
Kip and friend Alex go native in Jaipur.
Liz takes a dip (to the ankles) in the Ganges.
And of course, we leave you with the obligatory goat in a sweater on a busy street. This place was mind boggling.
A goat in a sweater.  'Nuff said.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


As soon as Liz was paroled from the meditation center at Dammha Bodhi, Kip thought it would be nice to "ease her back into Indian life" by visiting one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in India: The Bodhi Tree, under which Buddha was sitting when he achieved enlightenment.

After the typically exciting ride in an auto-rickshaw, we neared the entrance to the temple and were greeted by hundreds of hawker stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables to live animals and religious trinkets.  Also, a resident cow, not on sale, claimed her space in the middle of the stairs, gently mooing at the passing pilgrims.  

In addition to feral bovines and friendly canines, Kip spotted twin baby goats running around. Not one to pass up petting any type of animal, Liz picked one up for a quick cuddle. Worried the other goat may feel left out, Kip snatched up the identical twin while a nearby vendor snapped a photo while laughing hilariously. 

Only in India do local people find it odd that tourists love to pet animals while no one blinks an eye at the the fact that homeless farm animals wander aimlessly around one of the most holy sites in the world. 

After all the area animals had been properly petted and attended to, Liz was ready to see the main attraction: The Mahabodhi Temple complex. This temple is the most important Buddhist site in India and home to a direct descendant of what is rightly one of the world's most famous trees. 

Despite the hawkers and the bustle of hundreds of other visitors, the complex remains a deeply spiritual place. Chanting monks fill every corner and flower-carrying devotees shuffle around the main temple constantly. 

And then there's the tree...if only they'd had the holy Bodhi in the meditation center where we spent so many days in thoughtful silence, perhaps we too could have found something closer to enlightenment.
A close up view of the temple entrance.

A view of the Mahabodhi temple from "afar."

The placard explaining the significance of the holy tree in the background. 
A meditating monk.

More meditating monks, under the Bodhi tree.

Monday, January 28, 2013


While visiting the famous temples of Bodh Gaya, after our time spent in prison the meditation center, we came across this incredible sign, and a man putting on his socks.  Buddha sure was enlightened if he had the forethought to set up online donations before his death in 483 BC.  Now that is enlightening.

And as a bonus, Liz found this tough looking security guard's green and purple knitted booties to be highly amusing.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Two riders brave the infamous "Wall of Death" at a fair in India.
If you ever get the chance to visit one of India's countless circuses or fairs, your first stop has to be a show at the Wall of Death, aka "Motordome." Just follow the smell of exhaust fumes and the sounds of screaming crowds intermingled with twin-cylinder engines revved to their breaking points. 

The shows are so popular, the fair we went to--the Sonepur Mela--featured two of the high-walled, rickety cylinders. Both had been built from rusted metal supports and wooden planks more at place in a garbage dump than as an elevated road meant to hold up hundreds of spectators and a fleet of speeding cars and motorcycles. 

Once we finally overcame the fear factor, we sat with the masses, amazed by what has to be one of the craziest shows on earth.

Workers chat while a car, driven by a maniac, speeds overhead. A stunned crowd watches form above. The photo was taken through one of the many broken wooden planks on which the cars and bikes depend to hold them up.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Maybe all the travel had us stressed out, maybe too many yoga-loving people in India talked us into it, or maybe because we knew Julia Roberts did it in Eat, Pray, Love (Kip denies any knowledge of this last bit), we decided to enroll in a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. 

Before you go buying us Kool-Aid or a ticket on the Hale-Bopp spaceship, understand that we knew little about the course beforehand, other than it involved a vow of complete silence and lots of sitting still in deep thought. And no, in case you're wondering, neither of us had ever meditated before.

Liz's home for 12 days.
But we were optimistic. The course would take place in the holy site of Bodh Gaya, where prince Siddhartha Gautama became "The Buddha" and found enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. We figured if a regular person could become Buddha here through meditation, maybe the two of us could at least put in a few days of deep thought and find some nugget of universal truth. Or at least get a couple peaceful night's sleep. Plus, it was free!

Our earliest moment of true enlightenment came on the very first day...after viewing the daily schedule. For the next 12 days (note to anyone interested: the "10-day" course is actually 12 days; arrange travel plans accordingly...), we would have a total of two vegetarian meals per day, we would be waking up at 4 am, and we would be sitting cross-legged in complete silence for 12 hours each day.

The beautiful pagoda that housed our "cells" for
Those who know Liz will sympathize with the pre-sunrise wake up calls. Those who know Kip understand there's no way he's eating just two veggie meals per day.

Most of all, those who are human realize 12 hours is a LOT of sitting still quietly. Cross legged. On the floor. Not to mention, the first three days we soon found out would be spent contemplating our nostrils, literally. Man, we can say we know our nostrils REALLY well, now.

On the positive side, the grounds were vibrant, covered with flowers, trees, and an ornate, gilded pagoda. The sound of rustling leaves and birdsong filled the contemplative silence--most of the time. However, the walkways of the compound were covered with gravel, and the crunching sound of sandal on rock became excruciatingly loud after a few days of "nobal silence." The cacophony grew all the more grating once all the participants began doing what Kip nicknamed the "Dhamma Shuffle," caused by people so bored out of their minds that they drag their feet s-l-o-w-l-y on the way to and from meditation. 
Spelling is not important. Nobal silence is important.

In addition to the mind-numbing silence, lack of eye-contact (not allowed), and any kind of stimulation (no reading, exercising, etc.) we also had to deal with the natural noises of those around us. This being India, if  bodily functions marked the path to enlightenment, the subcontinent would be home to more Buddhas than beggars. 

It's difficult to explain the amount of belching, coughing, sniffing, and yes, farting, that exited so very audibly and frequently from this particular group of around 30 locals and 30 peace-seeking foreigners. Kip swears the longest unbroken span of total silence during the more than 100 hours of group meditation reached 14 seconds. Once. And he had lots of time to count.

Men and women were separated, but we could see each other hobbling around every now and again like elderly octogenarians after a game of lawn bowling.  Day two (really day three, but it's not like we were making hash marks in blood on the walls of our cells...) Kip passed Liz a note (totally illegal). She all too joyously packed her bags and was ready to get the heck out, too, as he was. 

But she didn't. Neither did least until day eight (quitter!).

If you were wondering how we (Liz) felt after ten days of silence, this is a pretty accurate representation. All in all, we are really glad we did the course. It was certainly an experience.  Liz wavered between wanting to run out of the room screaming, and considering taking the 45-day course. Kip wavered between sleep, hunger, and scaling the razor wire-topped walls for a long run, a warm cheese burger and a cold beer.
One of the many beautiful flowers surrounding the grounds.

Despite the fact that it was probably one of the most difficult (physically, mentally, totally) things we've ever done, it was an incredibly valuable experience and we're glad we did it.  Liz isn't planning on signing up for another course for at least another week or two. Kip still can't believe he lasted as long as he did, but he is proud he realized he could sit for an entire hour without moving...while listening to other people burp, cough, and fart quite freely, which was certainly enlightening, at least for him.

Liz found it hilarious that her toilet was branded with
a completely ripped off Continental Airlines logo. It was
also one of the only things she could read for 12 days...
A view of the meditation cell. Yes, cell,
just like in prison.

Into the unknown at the Dhamma Bodhi center in Bodh Gaya...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


A battery-powered tattoo machine at work in India.
He says his name is "Raj," and that he's the king of all tattoo artists. In his heavily-accented English, Raj tells us this matter-of-fact-ly, without animation, which is probably best, since he's at the same time using a battery-powered tattoo gun to pump ink into a paying client's arm.

We've seen some strange things in India. Raj's mobile tattoo parlor, spread out atop newspapers on the dirt, run completely on the power of two 9-volt batteries, and all carried out with little thought for modern hygiene, is right up there with the most shocking of them. 

Brave (or perhaps, unwitting) customers bring their own designs or choose between a selection carved from wood blocks laid out in rows. With a quick negotiation on price, which hovers between $2-$5, the customer sits down atop two stacked bricks, Raj presses the pre-inked wooden artwork against his/her skin and then sets off to work. 

No pretense, no fancy lights or reclining chair. There's also no antiseptic wipes, electricity, sanitized needles or pesky fears of the spread of hep B/C, tetanus, or even AIDS. 

Just a man and his work, as he's been doing it for the past 15 years.

Raj the king of tattoo artists sits in his studio. In front of him are rows of designs carved into wooden blocks.
The artist's tools--ink, designs, tattoo guns and extra 9-volt batteries in case others go dead.
A patron squats patiently as Raj does his work. 

Monday, January 21, 2013


Too many long, dusty days traveling can make a person awful thirsty. Along a road in rural India, we asked a local camel herder where we might find some liquid refreshment. He directed us to what he said was a wine shop, supposedly famous for its cold beer and warm spirits. No wine (or whining) was available.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Our friend Alex Parlini (the dark speck on the trail) hikes toward Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak.
While Liz headed south to Udaipur, Mumbai, and Goa, Kip and his buddy Alex from DC went northeast to Darjeeling (thanks for the visit, AP!). After testing out the region's famous teas, they traveled into the Indian Himalayas for a trek toward the world's third highest peak, Mt. Kanchenjunga (alt: 28,169 ft)

There, they hiked five days and watched some incredible sunsets/rises over the mountains of India/Tibet/Nepal/Bangladesh/Bhutan, one of the most unique and spectacular views in the world. 

Along the way, they also filled garbage bags with trash that lined the trails. As we had experienced in places including Nepal, Borneo, the Philippines, and others, the people met along the way happily joined the trail beautification efforts, proving once again that cleaning up...and volunteering...can be contagious. A big thanks to the guides, as well as Alex, Stewart, Stephanie, Raymond, and Sara.
With no trash collection in the mountains, garbage must be burned to get rid of it. Above, Alex supervises while the guides incinerate a small pile of some of the debris we collected during the five-day hike.
Mt Kanchenjunga in the morning light.
Kip at sunrise. The view includes Everest.

Potato diggers met along the trail.

The sun sets behind afternoon clouds.

Friday, January 18, 2013


A camel gives us a close-up farewell from Pushkar. 

We promise, no more camel least for a few days. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


In addition to camels, Pushkar offers visitors some stunning scenery. Set between arid farmland and rocky hills, the  town of 16,000 (which swells to more than 200,000 during the Came Fair) is one of the top pilgrimage sites for Hindus. Temples surround a small lake, which marks the center of the city. The word "Pushkar" means blue lotus flower in Sanskrit, and residents paint the buildings and temples on the lake's waters accordingly.
Hindus, like the camel traders attending the fair (above right), travel for days and miles to reach Pushkar. Many of the travelers dress up for the occasion (above left, below center), so Kip thought he'd get in on the fun. Luckily, everyone we met seemed to get a kick out of seeing a 6'2" bearded foreigner with a handlebar mustache dressed in a turban and pajama. 

In addition to learning how to tie a turban, we also found out just how large a camel's toes are. Those are huge camel toes!

But mostly while in Pushkar, we experienced just how incredibly stunning a sight you get when you combine thousands of camels, a camel race, a couple hundred thousand people, and three ferris wheels in a semi-dessert surrounded by mountains and holy temples. 

Oh yeah, did we mention we saw lots and lots of camels?


No words...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Of course, there's a camel race at the Pushkar Camel Fair. One loop around the town's sandy soccer field, the first one back to the start/finish line wins a pot of around $200, which is serious money around these parts. Plus, the winner gets bragging rights until next year's race.

Naturally, Kip had to get as close to the action as possible. Liz stayed (intelligently) in the stands with the hundreds of spectators watching the contest. 

It was a close race, but in the end, a camel won. 

Afterward, we walked onto the track/soccer field to meet the winning jockey and snap a couple of shots of the new champion, a dark, smelly critter without a name. Luckily, we had dressed appropriately for the occasion. 

It ain't NASCAR, but watching these fleet-footed beasts sprint full stride a few feet in front of you isn't a bad way to spend part of a Sunday. 

Next time though, we'll be tailgating with a grill and a cooler full of frosty beverages.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Trekking for miles across Rajasthan's arid landscape, sometimes for days at a time, countless residents of the region--often with their herds of livestock in tow--travel to what has become the world's largest place to buy, sell, and trade camels.

Liz gets a morning sniff from a resident camel.
It's called the Pushkar Camel Fair, and as seen previously on the site, it's an incredibly scenic and often hilarious event to behold.  We stopped by the festivities for a few days with our friend Alex from DC, who was as amazed as we were at the sight of so many camels (estimates put the number at around 50,000 animals) living, breathing, braying, sleeping, and racing in one place. 

Two traders, after trekking for three days, lead their herd into town at dawn at the start of the Fair.

Our Pushkar alarm clock, set for sunrise each day.
Trading takes place over the span of five days, and many of the men and women in the photos below have trekked for hundreds of kilometers to bring their camels to the fair.  Not wanting to miss anything, we got to the fairgrounds at sunrise each morning to take it all in. OK, we will admit, our early rising was also due to the fact that we had a group of vigorous, obnoxious, insomniac monkeys that frequently pounded on our windows at all hours, as well as the fact that our hotel was located next to one of the many temples in Pushkar, where pilgrims worship their gods quite vocally at all hours. Unfortunately (for Liz) the god of sleep does not have a temple in Pushkar.

But no matter. Thanks to the monkeys and noisy pilgrims, we were ready with cameras every morning to watch the camel camp come alive. More photos to come.
Camel herdsmen gather around the fire for a morning coffee and smoke.
Wake Up Kiss: A camel tries to give another a morning smack on the neck.
Mamma and baby wake up with the morning sun.
Mustachioed herdsman in Pushkar.
Taking in the view.
A camel trader who has not yet had his cup of coffee.
With so few women around, Liz quickly made some friends.