Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What a surreal trip it's been

I'm in Khajuraho. And it's been a. . .strange trip. But I mean that in a good (and yet still very bizarrre) way.

It started at the train station in Varanasi last night. The train was late, so I had more than an hour to hang out in the station and study the wildlife. And I'm not talking about the people, although, in more ways than one, the comparison would be fitting. No, I'm talking about the actual animals in the station. There were a couple of cows planted right outside the station doors, but once I made my way through the hoards of people sleeping on nearly every square inch of floor space, I saw that there was a cow inside, too. Kind of strange for me, but no one else even seemed to notice. Later I was at the platform and a cow walked right by me, on the track-side of the platform. When it turned back a little while later, people just moved out of the way again. Eventually I sat down on a sack that was filled with. . .something. . .and was able to look up for the first time. To see a family a monkeys sleeping in the rafters above me. Long story short, I thought there was going to be a monkey brawl right over my head, but the mama monkey shook her head no at the approaching male monkey hard enough that he gave up and retreated. The train ride itself was mostly uneventful since everyone was sleeping. I was asked to switch to a middle berth instead of the lower berth I had (and had requested) because a man was traveling with his 70 year old parents and he wanted both of them to have a lower berth, but that was no problem. The train was to arrive at Satna at 6:45am, but I figured it would be later than that since we were late setting off. Oddly enough, I woke up at 6:45am and noticed the train stopped and people moving around, but when I saw the time I laid down to go back to sleep. I figured that couldn't be my stop. After all, how could the train be on time after leaving an hour late? And wouldn't someone wake me up if it was my stop?

I realized with a mild panic that it was my train and I had to get off before I ended up somewhere I didn't want to be. With sleep still in my eyes and panic still in my chest, I walked outside to find myself in a crowd of touts wanting to take me to Khajuraho or the bus station (for a bus that would eventually take me to Khajuraho). I knew I was taking the bus (for Rs 80), so I had to laugh when I was offered a taxi ride for Rs 800. Sure, the taxi would've gotten me there a bit sooner (not really all that much sooner), but it would've cost TEN times as much! Anyway, to the bus station for me and that's where I met Yacob and Miguel. You'd be surprised how easy it is for all of the English speaking people to find each other, even in a country of more than a billion! :-) Yacob is from Denmark and Miguel is from Mexico and, since we had about 2 hours until our bus departed, the three of us ended up hanging out together.

And then the bus ride. Ah, the bus ride. (Important side note that happened before the actual bus ride: there are NO toilets at the bus station. No toilets! At the bus station! Yacob ended up keeping watch for me while I went where all the other locals seem to go. Behind a building.) The three of us all had seats, but the same can't be said for people at later stops. I don't know how many people were on the bus, but they just kept squeezing in. It wasn't that bad, though, since I had a seat! As the bus got out of the city and into the countryside more, that's when it got interesting. Yacob sat behind me and Miguel and he had quite the chatterbox for a seatmate. The roads got narrower and narrower, but the traffic was still going in both directions and there was still livestock crossing the road. Then there was a bus accident and then we saw two wild peacocks on the side of the road. Wait. What was that? A bus accident? Yes, indeed, but it was a minor one, so no one was hurt and all is well. I'm not sure exactly what happened since I was trying to read at the time, but apparently our bus and another bus (or large truck) had a sideview mirror collision. The bus driver barely slowed down to check the damage. (But I have pictures as proof! Not uploaded yet, but they will be.) The other interesting thing about the bus ride is that people were sharing food. This doesn't sound all that interesting, but people were sharing food with strangers. (Which is odd to me, but happens regularly in India.) The bus stops for a break, some people get off to buy snacks or whatever, and then when the snack buyers get back on the bus, they offer some of their snack to all the people around them. I had people offer me cookies, chips, soda, everything. Towards the end of the trip, one of the men who worked for the bus company broke apart pieces of a coconut and passed it to everyone left on the bus. Crazy.

After a three hour bus ride, we finally arrived at Khajuraho. What a scene it was! The three obvious foreigners who got off the bus were immediately in a throng of touts offering rickshaw rides and hotel information. The three of us could barely hear ourselves think. Luckily, I had mentioned earlier that I was going to the Yogi Lodge and I guess when it came to the point when we were surrounded and had people yelling and tugging at us to get our attention, Yacob and Miguel decided that that sounded like a fine place, too, let's just get outta here! The touts didn't get that much better once we were at the hostel, but I think that's going to be my only complaint about Khaj (I don't think anyone calls it that, but I'm tired of typing out the whole word.) I haven't been here long enough to really say, but from what I've seen so far, it's a million times cleaner and quieter here than anywhere else I've been in India so far.

One last thing to add (even though it wasn't officially part of the trip since we'd already arrived, but it kind of wrapped up the day nicely): After checking in to the hostel and showering, Miguel and I went in search of food. We ended up finding this place that essentially looked like this family's backyard. We were escorted by a boy who we later found out had the job of bringing people into the restaurant. He was 14 and just the most adorable thing. He's learning English and you can tell he's nervous about speaking it because he stutters (not when he speaks Hindi, though). He had an unusual way of saying things and had us cracking up when he commented that we "were absolutely right." Not a funny comment on it's own, but he said it just so. We didn't want him to hate us, though, so we were quick to explain that we weren't laughing at him. At one point he was just chatting away and being very informative, actually, when right in the middle of the conversation he made a comment about how "every once in awhile smoking hash or a joint is nice." Then he offered some to us and Miguel and I looked at each other like, "is this kid actually offering us drugs in a public place?!" Then he went over to the family and got ganja from them to show to us. We passed and took that opportunity to head back to the hotel for the night.

Well, until I decided to come post about my day, that is. :-) Tomorrow I'm going to try to start my day with an early morning yoga class before I hit some of the temples. Khajuraho is famous for their temples with erotic images and there's quite a few of them. My decision will be whether to go to the western temples where the entrance fee is Rs 250 (for foreigners). Or to rent a bike for Rs 20 and go to the southern and eastern temples that are free. I'm leaning towards the latter because I think the bike ride will be nice.

So what do you think? Was it a trip worthy of the words surreal, strange, and biazarre?


  1. Shannon, I believe you were absolutely right with surreal, strange and bizarre as descriptors! Wow.

    And just so you get the same chuckle I did... I was reading this pretty fast. In your next to last paragraph, I thought I read, "Khajuraho is famous for their temples with erotic massages." I was like, "What!?! In temples!?!"

    I was quite relieved to see I'd made a mistake in my reading. Love ya!

  2. This is absolutely a surreal experience. It's probably something the locals are just used to. :) It'll be interesting to see how accustomed you become to all of these things as you continue your India travels.

    ToadMama, some Indian temples do have erotic images. The Kama Sutra is a spiritual text. In Tantric traditions, what we call by a variety of names is a spiritual act, representative of the joining of the male and female aspects of the universe.

  3. Aja, "Images" are one thing... and I understand why. I thought I read erotic MASSAGES. LOL!

  4. lol! Yeah that would be a little different.

  5. YES! absolutely very deserving of surreal,
    strange and biazarre. I bet you were scared
    out of your mind to wake-up not knowing really
    where you were,then to have people pulling at you as soon as you got off the train.

    Love Ya!

  6. Pay the 250/- -- that's the main set of temples. Getting to Khajuraho is half the challenge and once you're there you may as well see it well. There are also tour operators that take you to some rather impressive waterfalls (darn!~ forgotten the name), check that option. If the two fellow 'firangs' are willing to split costs, hire a cab and travel around the forest, sanctuary, riverside and then the waterfalls. Then you won't even have to stress about the 'wild life sanctuary' thingie.

    Meanwhile, homework :-) :

  7. Don't mean to spam...but as far as the train ride, the animals and all that...remember the Carpenter's song..."We've Only Just Begun"...

    We've only just begun to live,
    White lace and promises
    A kiss for luck and we're on our way.
    And yes, We've just begun.

    Before the rising sun we fly,
    So many roads to choose
    We start our walking and learn to run.
    And yes, We've just begun.

    Apt, methinks -- that's me, not the song!

    Go safe - the golden triangle is feral...people, not monuments. Having said that, you'll probably charm your way out of most anything.

  8. Most of your descriptions of this trip sound a lot like my friend/coworker from India said of his homeland. Love,

  9. Hi shan,

    Myself RANJEET from the train you took from khajuraho to agra........i hope you might have taken train from mathura to agra in early morning....pls do inform abt your Agra trip and let me know if you enjoyed your agra trip.....Hoping your rest of India tour goes well.....wishing u happy journey and in case you need any help at Delhi pls do contact me.....One again wishing you happy and enjoyable trip to India.

  10. i love it! how are you going to deal with boring old baltimore after all of this? i'm so happy that you are encountering such great new friends. and i was so happy that kathy said you have a place to go for christmas. enjoy their toilets. we love and miss you! xoxoL