Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Taj

The Taj Mahal was impressive. I'll let the pictures do the talking on this blog entry:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Laughing Yoga

My friend Kevin Rodin (also known as Huyen's new swim teacher) told me that he and his wife Beth tried to go to laughing yoga in Kolkata. I was intrigued by the idea of laughing yoga and asked someone in Kolkata about it. This one guy told me how it was very healthy to laugh and that since Indian people don't laugh much, it was good to make oneself laugh in yoga class. When he told us this, my first thought was, "Indian people don't laugh a lot?". After he said that I started to notice that indeed, people didn't seem to laugh as much in India as in other places I've been. For example in Vietnam, everyone always seems to be laughing (except when they're stone faced on their motorbikes).

In Kolkata, we tried to find the laughing yoga and failed miserably for two hours. Perhaps the laughing yogis were watching us search for them and this inspired their laughing. Well, in Varanasi we signed up for regular yoga and it turned out to be a laughing yoga class. The guru was the weirdest dude I've met in a long time. Besides his dyed purple hair, he just had this comical look to match his big belly. I found myself giggling because all around his yoga studio were pictures of him featured in newspapers around the world. The pictures were clearly from a few years earlier when he was a tad bit trimmer. Anyway, he started to lead us in laughing yoga which was actually a lot of fun. We did thing like making funny faces and forcing ourselves to laugh. It wasn't too hard to make ourselves laugh though because everyone looked utterly ridiculous, especially the guru.

Just as we started to feel good and relaxed, a joke was played on us -- the guru said he had to go and had his assistant take over the class. His assistant, a girl, looked like she hadn't laughed since, well ever. She had the most serious look on her face and started to instruct us like a drill sergeant. Needless to say, there were no more laughs the rest of the class.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Our Cyclo Driver

If you ever go to Khajuraho, keep your eye out for this guy. Without a doubt, he was the most honest driver (taxi/cyclo/rickshaw) we had in India. On our way into Khajuraho he rode us around through the town and showed us about ten different hotels. On our way out of Khajuraho, he picked us up at our hotel (on time) and took us to the bus station. He then proceeded to just hang out with us for forty five minutes as we waited for the bus.

The guy was very open about his life and told us how it was a "miracle" how tourists came to his city in the middle of nowhere. I liked his attitude because he treated tourists as people to be respected and thankful for. Frankly, this is how I think people should always treat tourists who come from far away to see another land and culture. Personally, whenever I meet a tourist (which has happened a few times since returning to the states) I try and be as friendly to them as possible as I think it is pretty cool that they chose to come to our country and spend their money and time here.

Anyway, the point of this blog is that this guy was pretty cool and if you go to Khajuraho you should hire him. I can pretty much guarantee he'll be waiting by the bus stand.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Walk like an Egyptian...

One of our more bizarre interactions in Khajuraho was when we visited the most famous temple. Standing guard at the doorway of the temple was this guy:

(PICTURE: Me with the security guard.)

While Huyen and I were inspecting the carvings, the security guard came over to us with a huge smile and started to explain what everything meant. The guy was trying so hard to summarize thousands of years of Hinduism into just a few minutes which is obviously not an easy task. To make matters worse, his English was quite poor. However, what he lacked in communication skills he made up with gusto.

While he was telling us about Shiva and the other Hindu gods, he kept looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was stealing the relics he was supposed to be protecting. After he finished giving us his mini tour, he insisted that Huyen and I take pictures with the same poses as in many of the sculptures. Heck, we're always down for some funny pictures so we took these:

The area we are standing on is the same place that dancers and performers would entertain the king hundreds of years ago. On this day though, the only person really being entertained was the security guard.

Friday, July 22, 2011


(PICTURE: Ride like the wind, Huyen. Ride like the wind.)

Let me tell you one of my secrets for traveling: no matter where you are, it's always more fun to have your own two wheels. Huyen and I have rented bikes in Thailand, Myanmar and India. Whenever we do, it always ends up being one of our favorite experiences. In Khajuraho, we would wake up at about 5AM and bike around so that we could avoid the heat. Having your own wheels allows you to:
1. Avoid all the rickshaws and cyclos who harass you for your business.
2. Gets you off the beaten path.

With our bikes, Huyen and I went to some of the furthest temples in Khajuraho where nobody else was out. We were also able to bike into an old village and meander through alleys and back roads.

I was especially happy with my bike in Khajuraho because it was basically personalized:

*They had no helmets in this city. Thankfully there was very little traffic and decent roads so we didn't have any issues. When we asked for helmets we basically got laughed at since it was like 118 degrees.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


(PICTURE: My wife, the yoga guru.)

Take a deep breath everyone as I'm about to write something that might offend. Here goes: Yoga, as we know it, is a scam. Don't believe anyone who tells you that yoga is an Indian thing. No, yoga is a western invention, no ifs ands or buts. Sure it might have started in India but the yoga we know (and pay lots of money for) is completely westernized. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with yoga. I thin it's a great form of exercise that really shapes your body. However, for those who go to India to practice, save your cash. What you'll find in India are:
1. Gurus who are no better than your average white chic with an "om" tattoo on her back.
2. Generally gurus who come from the west. We went to one of the most famous ashrams in India and not only was everyone in the class a westerner, but the guru was from NJ.

Huyen and I rarely ever saw any Indian people actually doing yoga. One morning we went to a park where we heard there was "laughing yoga." We walked the whole park and didn't see anyone doing anything more than some neck rolls. By far our worst experience though was in Khajuraho. We had specifically stayed at the Yogi Lodge because it included free yoga every morning. Well on the first morning we asked about the yoga and the owner seemed a little bit caught off guard. He told us we could do it at his other guest house which was a ten minute bike ride away. When we showed up, we were taken upstairs and proceeded to do yoga on a concrete floor. Actually, technically we didn't do it on the floor; we did it on a FILTHY thin carpet that the yoga "instructor" rolled out. This carpet was out of a movie. If you stomped on it, dust flew up. The worst part though was the instructor. We told him right off that we were beginners, yet within five minutes he was asking us to do pretzels. We literally looked at him and laughed. He would then put his legs behind his head and tell us to do what he was doing. We then laughed again. He then would ask how much yoga instructors get paid in America. After digesting this, he asked us for a donation. A donation? For what? Clearly, for him. We told him that the yoga was included with the guest house and he said he knew that but that we should give him "a present." This time we awkwardly laughed and then got the hell out of there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


(PICTURE: Huyen in front of a temple.)

I've been getting a lot of slack from people for my lack of blogging. And well, I deserve it. I'm gonna try and get back on pace and finish up the India blogs and then put a nice pink bow around Ahoy Hanoi. After that, you can all get your daily fix from the blog Huyen is going to start up.

I think the lack of blogging has been twofold: 1. I'm home now and spending a lot of time with family and friends. 2. I'm honestly just not that excited to write about India. Sometimes trips take a little while to digest and process (the opposite of Indian food) and this was one of them. So, I'm gonna attempt to breeze through India with some more general blog posts.

After going to Varanasi, we headed to Khajuraho. Getting there, as always, was an adventure. We had to take a long train, stay overnight in a very sketchy town where everyone and their mother offered to drive us to Khajuraho for about 10x's the bus fare, and then take an early morning direct bus which stopped 3,974 times including an hour along a mountain pass which wasn't wide enough for two buses/trucks to go through.

We finally got to Khajuraho which was the HOTTEST place we visited in India. I mean, it was freaking HOT! It was the off season and we had the pick of whichever hotel we wanted. We had a bicycle cyclo guy drive us from place to place to get different rates. We finally ended up going to the one we thought we'd go to since it had free yoga in the morning. It wasn't the nicest place but for $4 a night you can't really complain.

The next day we rented bicycles and rode around all of the temples with the famous karma sutra carvings:

Looking at the carvings one can't help but be impressed. I mean, how flexible are Indians?

Seriously though, doesn't this explain why the population is the fastest growing in the world?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Photos of People

(PICTURE: One of my favorite shots I took in India.)

In Varanasi, I took a lot of interesting photos of people. Here's some of my favorites that I haven't posted on other entries:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sleeping On Roofs

Everywhere we went, people would sleep on roofs at night. In Varanasi though, we definitely saw the largest clusters of people sleeping together on the roofs:

(PICTURE: Natural AC.)

The only problem with sleeping on a roof is that it exposes you to the elements. You know, like rain or monkeys. Yes, monkeys. In Agra, we saw a family sleeping on a roof. About two minutes after I took this picture...

...a monkey came along and scratched the shirtless boy:

The father wasn't too happy and threw a rock at the monkey:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunrise Over The Ganges

(PICTURE: Sunrise over the Ganges.)

We had actually booked our guest house because it said online that they had a free boat cruise at sunset every morning. Naturally this turned out not to be true. However, we agreed to pay the money and were told to be ready at 5AM the next morning. We were up at 5AM but nobody came to pick us up. Finally I managed to wake up the guest house owner who had booked the trip for us and he took us down to the ghats where we met the guys who supposedly were supposed to pick us up at 5AM. Anyway, we got down to the river just as the sun was peaking up over the horizon.

It was absolutely beautiful and amazing to see how much activity goes on around the river every morning.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Washing Clothes

(PICTURE: Getting some stains out.)

Huyen and I had our clothes washed in Varanasi. That was before we found out where most people wash their clothes:

(PICTURE: Men doing the laundry.)

Luckily we were told that our laundry was washed in a machine. However, the place air dried our clothes in the kitchen which meant they came back smelling like curry.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ganges

(PICTURE: A man praying in the Ganges.)

From Lonely Planet: The River Ganges provides millions of Indians with an important link to their spirituality. Every day about 60,000 people go down to the Varanasi ghats to take a holy dip along a 7km stretch of the river. Along this same area, 30 large sewers are continuously discharging into the river.

The Ganges River is so heavily polluted at Varanasi that the water is septic - no dissolved oxygen exists. The statistics get worse. Samples from the river show the water has 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100mL of water. In water that is safe for bathing this figure should be less than 500!

Huyen and I saw people drinking from the Ganges. DRINKING! I mean it's one thing to bathe in shit but to drink it. Ohhhhh man...

(PICTURE: A swim class. Notice the instructor has a tube for himself.)

(PICTURE: People taking a morning bath.)

(PICTURE: A happy bather.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Indians love their cricket. Seemingly every open space we saw around the country was occupied by kids playing cricket, also known as "the sport I know next to nothing about." Here's some pictures from Varanasi of kids playing next to a ghat:

(PICTURE: Huyen was the umpire.)

(PICTURE: Swing and a me in baseball.)

Monday, July 4, 2011


(PICTURE: Wearing masks on the street.)

One thing you immediately notice in India is that the air is not very clean. Huyen almost immediately wore her Vietnamese style nose and mouth mask to protect herself from the elements. I was a little more hesitant because I just feel a little weird walking around wearing a mask when nobody else has one on. Within twenty four hours of arriving, both of our eyes and throats felt very irritated. Within forty eight hours, I had started to develop a little bit of a cough. I then turned to the back of Lonely Planet and read, "Around 25% of travelers to India will develop a respiratory infection. This usually starts as a virus and is exacerbated by environment conditions...". Well, after reading that, I put aside my self consciousness and began to wear a mask almost all of the time when we were on the street.

One of the added side benefits of wearing a mask was that less people came up to us, trying to sell us stuff or scam us. Occasionally I would forget the mask and we could really see a difference on how many people would approach us. So, I guess a tip I would give to people is that if you pretend to have an infectious disease, you might enjoy your trip a little bit more.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Suggestion #2

(PICTURE: The Nandan Complex is near the South Gate of the Victoria Monument. FYI.)

As I mentioned yesterday, my friend Jessica's friend in Kolkata sent Huyen and I some suggestions. The second thing he suggested to us was to "check out a show at the Nandan Complex."

The Nandan Complex is a state-run cultural center that has music, theater and movies. It was hot as hell out so we thought checking out a Bengali movie would be a great way to spend a couple of hours. We got directions to the place and started to walk there. I'll save all the details but it took about three times as long as we were told and had such fun adventures as two naked three-year-old boys trying to climb up my leg to take my bottle of water.

Eventually we got to the Nandan Complex and were surprised how crowded it was. People were everywhere including a hell of a lot of ARMED MILITARY GUYS. Huyen and I smiled at the security forces and walked into the center. One thing we immediately noticed was that everyone was wearing white and carrying flowers. Even stranger was that there were a ton of cameras (still and video) and very good looking people. The Hollywood in me immediately came out and I said confidently to Huyen, "They must be having a movie premiere."

So, Huyen and I walked through the well dressed, good looking people trying to find the box office. After stepping into the main hall we encountered something you usually don't see at a movie theater -- a DEAD BODY!

No, the person hadn't just been killed -- although that's always a possibility in India -- but rather was the the man-of-honor at his own funeral. Huyen and I were about a foot from the deceased, who was covered in flowers, and then started to notice that a lot of people were staring at us. I nearly said to probably some A-list Bollywood star, "Do you know I can buy movie tickets?" but managed to restrain myself. Instead I gave Huyen a lets-get-the-hell-out-of-here-head-jerk and we departed the premises.

Well, I have no idea who died and that's only because I don't speak Hindi. You see, the next morning I turned on the news and there was a story about the funeral. I watched the piece -- not understanding a word -- and kept expecting to see us wandering aimlessly in the background. In fact, one guy who was on TV, gave his interview about a foot from where we were standing.

So long story short, we didn't get to see a movie and sit in AC.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Indian Coffee House

(PICTURE: The Indian Coffee House.)

So how did I get my first case of the runs? Well, I'm not 100% sure but it was either from:

a) A cup of coffee at the legendary Indian Coffee House.
b) A meal from a local restaurant some guy suggested.
c) From a street side coconut I ate. Lets just say the guy cutting it open didn't look like he washed his hands since, well, ever.

Anyway, let me briefly talk about A. My friend Jessica (from Hanoi!) used to live in Kolkata and put me in touch with a friend of hers who was still there. Unfortunately her friend was out of town but he sent me an email with some suggestions. One of the suggestions was that we had to go to the coffee house. Well, after doing some sightseeing we started walking to the place. The streets were a little confusing so we asked some college-aged students who were standing on a corner. One of the guys, lets call him ASSHOLE #1, said to us: "Oh, the Indian Coffee House isn't near here. It's like forty minutes away. You need to take a bus." Well, thankfully I know how to read a map and knew ASSHOLE #1 was full of shit. A second clue was probably when he and his friends started to laugh as soon as we had walked about three feet away. I can only pray that one day ASSHOLE #1 will be traveling in the USA and ask for directions and get pointed down a very shady, dark alleyway where he'll meet some guy with a face tattoo named Spike. Anyway, I digress...

Soooo, ignoring our not so helpful advice, we proceeded in the general direction that I thought the coffee house was in (to be clear, we had a very faded map with only large streets on it. We even went to the tourist office the day before and they didn't have a good map for us). After walking for a few more minutes, I asked another person for directions and he started to give it to us in 99% Hindi. Thankfully a really nice guy, lets call him NICE GUY, came up and asked where we wanted to go. Actually, scratch that. NICE GUY's name was Ankit so lets call him by his name and give him the recognition he deserves. So, Ankit spoke nearly perfect English and said he'd walk with us half the way since he was going that way to school. Ankit told me that he used to work for HP as a customer service rep and got to talk to tons of Americans. Heck, I might have even talked to him before on the other end of an 800 number. Anyway, Ankit took us very close to the shop and then bid adieu. Let me just say, it's people like Ankit who make traveling so rewarding. Unfortunately for the first time ever, this trip had too many people like ASSHOLE #1 and not enough Ankits.

After parting with Ankit, we had to walk for just a few more minutes until we came to the coffee house. Here's the LP description of the place: "The mythic Indian Coffee House was once a meeting place of freedom fighters, bohemians and revolutionaries. Today its crusty high ceilings and grimy walls ring with deafening student conversation but despite the dishwater coffee, it’s perversely fascinating."

The coffee house was definitely a cool place to check out and indeed the coffee was crap...and might have given me the runs.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Traveller's Diarrhoea

(PICTURE: This cup of HOT coffee was the only water I drank that I wasn't 100% sure about.)

To quote Lonely Planet's medical section:

Traveller's Diarrhoea: This is by far the most common problem affecting travellers in India -- between 30% and 70% of people will suffer from it within two weeks of starting their trip.

First let me say this, is that really a statistic? Between 30% and 70%? I mean, that's the largest percentage range I've ever seen quoted. That said, the numbers were dead on since 50% of our travelling party had horrific diarrhoea on day three. I don't want to embarrass anyone by pointing fingers but lets just say the person with the runs wasn't my wife. Okay, dammit, you figured it out -- I had terrible diarrhoea.

Here's a quick riddle for you: What's worse than having travelling diarrhoea?

Keep thinking...

Keep thinking...

Keep thinking...

ANSWER: Having traveling diarrhoea on a day you that you need to travel.

The morning when I woke up with the squirts (that's putting it lightly since I'd say it was more like a fire house out of my butt) was the day we were going to take a fourteen hour train ride to Varanasi. Yes, I was going to be on an Indian train with the runs. The fearful thought had me ingest Smecta (my Vietnamese stomach savior) and Immodium AD (my lifelong stomach savior) as well as a loaf of white bread. Somehow it worked.