How to be like Akshay Kumar

Bollywood music videos are arguably some of the best works of art ever made. They are also some of the most confusing. They are featured in the major Bollywood films and help tell the story in a fun and energetic way. It’s almost the same way older Disney movies used musical scenes to explain important events, except this is for grownups. If you haven’t seen the movies that these music videos are in don’t worry, they’re so damn fun that you don’t mind watching them as they are.

One of the most famous actors in Bollywood is Akshay Kumar. He is a legend and my personal Indian role model. He doesn’t actually sing in the music videos he’s in, but he dances like a freaking champ. I added links to three of his best music videos below.

Balma Song from Khiladi 786
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLUS2pDKmmc

This video was featured in one of Kumar’s latest hits, Khiladi 786. It’s a standard Kumar video with scenes of him juggling multiple girlfriends mixed in with scenes of him kicking scores of bad guys asses. The first featured girl is Claudia Ciesla, dressed for this flick as an Indian woman. She tries to charm Kumar with her sex appeal and promiscuous dance moves. However, she is no match for the cool and put together Asin Thottumkal who strolls into the bar like a rich Indian girl and ultimately steals Kumar’s attention.

“Subha Hone Na De Full Song” from Desi Boyz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7G-tYRzwYY

Kumar and his buddy, John Abraham, roll into the club and pick up every girl in the place. All is fun and good until Abraham’s girlfriend strolls in. They sent in a serious shipment of white girls for this one. How’d they find so many in Mumbai?

Chinta Ta Ta Chita Chita from Rowdy Rathore

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dmwtnQBkLk

This time Kumar is playing a small time crook in the hit Rowdy Rathore. After falling in love at first site with the beautiful Sonakshi Sinha, he goes on to capture her heart through his smooth style and wit. Using his immense street cred and extremely good luck that so many trained backup dancers are around, he puts together a spectacular display to show off that he is the coolest guy on the block. Sonakshi is so impressed she starts to fall for him too.

Yoga and Cavemen

Yoga class in the Western world is generally a bunch of hot babes meeting up and getting all sorts of flexible. However, traditional Yoga is a mind and body practice that originated from the Hinduism religion. While Yoga itself is not a religion, I found it to be as powerful as any major religion out there. Major religions serve two main purposes. They explain why we’re here, and they teach followers how to connect with a higher being or universal spirit. Before I came to India I had never thought of Yoga as a spiritual practice; however, after trying it myself, I saw firsthand the truly powerful forces of this practice.

One goal of my trip was to experience true Hindu spirituality, but after three weeks in India I hadn’t come close to finding it. This was not because the opportunity wasn’t there; it was because I did not know what to look for. After learning that Yoga is a Hindu practice I thought that taking a class might be a good way to sample the Hindu religion. I was hesitant because of the few Yoga classes that I had tried in America. These classes were good because they improved muscle flexibility and tendon strength, but I never got the impression that there was much more to them.

I was in Kochi, India when I decided to seek out a Yoga spot. I wandered around the town until I found signs that read “YOGA”. I followed them to the end and found myself in a yard with a small hut. I didn’t think that it was the right place, but I gave a knock on the rickety door. A small Indian man opened the door revealing a surprisingly spacious Yoga room. The man’s name was Sahgen, and he was the instructor. He was in the middle of giving a lesson over the internet to one of his students in California, but he invited me in and asked me sit down.

When he finished he directed his attention to me. I folded my legs into a Yoga resting position, and he began to share his philosophies.

“Breath in. Feel the oxygen coming from the plants and the trees. Breathe out. Feel the carbon dioxide returning to the plants and the trees.”

I did as instructed. I focused on the air: tasting it, straight from the plants. Then I released it, giving it back to the plants. We continued for a few minutes until Sahgen felt I was ready for some more advanced Yoga philosophy.

“Do you eat meat?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Why?”

“Because animal protein is good for you.”

“Elephant eat only vegetables and grow up to be mightiest of all beasts,” he explained. He made a good point. He did only weigh about 110 lbs though.

“Oh I see what you mean.”

I prefer not to argue with the hard core vegans. It’s never a conversation that really goes anywhere. Plus I had no desire to convert him to the wonderful world of meat. The off chance that I converted him would just mean I would have another carnivore to compete with over Earth’s precious food supply. Better not to risk it.

“Dog jaws work like this,” he continued. He made a chomping motion to mimic a dog’s inflexible jaws. “Dog made to eat meat. Our jaws work like this.” He made a grinding motion with his mouth to mimic human jaws. “You see. It same as cow, same as elephant.”

He made another good point……I was ready for stretching, but still not ready to give up eating God’s delicious creatures.

I noticed a dog scurrying around in his backyard. My argument to him would have been that by having a dog he was sustaining a carnivorous animal, and therefore he was indirectly causing the death of other animals. His dog would undoubtedly hunt rabbits and mice and other little creatures. I imagine that he would have made a chomping motion with his jaws and tell me that the dog is naturally designed to eat other animals and therefore it’s ok for a dog to do so because it is part the natural circle of life. However, by sustaining a dog that nature could not sustain on its own, he was intervening with nature and creating an imbalance in the natural circle of life. He was good willed because he was caring for the life of another creature, but on a deeper level he failed to see the conflict with this action and his own beliefs. His human intervention sustained a predatory creature which nature would otherwise not permit as nature limits the amount of predators based on the food supply.

My mind was racing, but I held my tongue. I was there to learn his beliefs, and not to taint them with my own.

By the time we were done talking five other students were in the room waiting for class to start. I grabbed a mat and Sahgen began leading the class. We went through an active routine of stretches. We started with a hip stretch where we put one leg flat on the ground and our opposite foot as far forward as possible. We went into a lower back arch and then moved to a downward dog stretch where we put our butts high in the air and straightened out our legs to get a calf stretch. We ended the set by standing up and alternating between touching our toes and doing a backward bend. We repeated this several times.

Despite the peaceful environment, I could not keep my mind from wandering. I asked myself, “What is natural?” Creatures evolve in the wild to eat new food sources all the time. When a specific creature can successfully digest and convert a new food source into energy, it slowly evolves until a new species emerges that has a niche advantage in eating that particular food source.

As man was evolving, certain humans learned how to survive the harsh northern habitats by wearing furs and hunting the animals in cold climates. When we think of early man, we generally picture cavemen in animal furs hunting mammoths in the frozen tundra. However, these cavemen were well evolved over their predecessors. These cavemen had developed an advantage and capitalized on the lower competition for food in the harsher climates. The effect was that a primarily vegetarian creature was able to sustain itself on meat and live in an area that was uninhabitable for humans prior to that point in time. Thus, population boomed due to man’s newfound and “unnatural” source of food.

Humans in warm weather climates also realized advantages by hunting animals instead of gathering plants. The humans that hunted found a larger supply of food that they could harness with less effort required than gathering. This allowed early cavemen clans to sustain larger populations which improved their chances of survival against other clans. It also provided them with more free time do other things. While most cavemen probably just used this free time to party around the fire and squabble over caveman babes, many used the free time to create better weapons and tools which gave them further advantage over rival clans.

Humans evolved above their “natural” state and became something more. Perhaps eating vegetables was better for long term health, but eating meat improved the odds of survival in the real world.

p48476
“I don’t care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do.”
Gene Kranz, Apollo 13

Despite that fact that my views were conflicting to Sahgen’s I was thoroughly enjoying the session. Sahgen instructed us to measure a distance with our hands, put our heads down on the mat, and jump up into a head stand. I did as he said and maintained the position by keeping my keeping my abs flexed tightly. I held it for a few minutes and then sat back down.

A strong sensation came over me. I cannot quite describe it in words because I had never felt anything quite like it, but somehow I felt spiritually connected to the world around me. I took a minute to look around the room. I admired the beauty of the bare walls. I appreciated the small gathering of ants in the corner. The fitness Yoga I had tried in America didn’t come close to this experience.

I had thought that I would have to go to a Hindu temple, dress up as a monk, and meditate without food or water for seven days in order to feel true Hindu spirituality. However, I discovered in this moment that none of that was necessary. I had found Hindu spirituality right in Sahgen’s crudely made hut.

We finished off by sitting strait up and chanting to the Hindu gods. “Ohhhh-mmmmmmmm,” “Rrrrrrraaaammmmm,” “Huuuuummmmmmm.”

Then Sahgen turned the main lights on. I felt recharged and energized. My body felt great and I felt completely aware of the world around me.

Although I have found most spiritual Yoga instructors to be a little kooki, this experience showed me that Yoga is a great practice for people to participate in. I would go as far to argue that Yoga could be religion on its own. It promotes interconnectedness with all beings on the planet. This does not directly satisfy the first question that religions should answer, which is to explain why we are here, but after enough meditations students will understand that this explanation is not something that can be understood through words or writing alone. It also satisfies the second important aspect of religion because, through the meditations and exercises, it teaches its students how to connect with the spirituality of the world, which is the equivalent of a higher power in other religions.

Aside from these spiritual benefits, Yoga improves the students’ flexibility and drastically reduces their risk of injury from physical activities. These are tangible benefits that actually benefit them “in this world”. Even if the students start for the physical benefits, the spiritual aspect eventually grows on them, and Yoga becomes more than just a series of exercises. Ultimately, if people give their time to this practice, it gives back in the short term by improving health and in the long term by providing a sense of spirituality.

When the class ended it was almost 7 PM. I couldn’t believe almost 3 hours had gone by. I hadn’t eaten since noon, so I stopped at a local restaurant on the way home. They were advertising a fresh catch of jumbo Tiger shrimp. It sounded delicious. I felt my carnivorous, evolved human lust for animal flesh take over me. The waiter came over to take my order. I looked at him and put my finger on the line of the menu that said “Tiger shrimp”. Then right before my eyes the waiter’s face began to blur, and his facial features began to change. I rubbed my eyes and looked at him again. It was not the waiter that was taking my order, but it was Sahgen. He was giving me the evil eye and moving his jaws around like a proper vegetarian creature. I thought better and slid my finger down the menu and away from the seafood section.

“I think I’ll have the vegetable curry please.”

Lakshman for this Lifetime

Lakshman for this Lifetime

This photo was me with the crazy group of Indian cousins I met in Mumbai. This was at the end of our trip when we made an American sports team style huddle before erupting into the “Lakshman” chant.

For my last day in Mumbai I thought it would be cool to take the ferry over to Elephanta Island to see Hindu statues that dated back to the 7th century AD. I got on the ferry and sat down to enjoy the ride. A few minutes later I noticed a group of Indian guys causing trouble in the back of the boat.

A couple of Indian families came up to me and asked me if I would take a picture with them. The guys saw this and motioned me over to meet them. These guys turned out to be some of the most nuts, fun-loving dudes I’ve ever met. They were all cousins or related somehow, and out of the 14 or so of them only one of them spoke a moderate amount of English. Nevertheless, we didn’t need to share a common language to pick on the monkeys of the island or holler at the white girls walking by. It goes to show that language is a barrier that can easily be overcome.

One thing I’ve noticed about guys from around the world is that, no matter how bad their English is, they always find it funny to pick one of their friends and tell the outsider in broken English that their friend is gay. It’s usually the quiet, shy one that doesn’t fight back that is the brunt of the joke. For this group it was the unfortunate cousin Arjun that earned the title. The cousins approached me one after the other, “Hey see him. See Arjun. He gay!”

This was followed by roars of laughter from the others. The laughter grew stronger each time it was announced that Arjun was gay. By the 6th or 7th time the poor guy was declared gay, the group was worked up into such a state of hilarity that I thought one of them was going to fall over the railing and into the ocean. Arjun just sat there quietly. He seemed accustomed to being the entertainment for the group.

They gave me the Indian nickname of “Lakshman” and then broke out into laughter when I beat my chest like King Kong and yelled “Lakshman” in a savage jungle roar. I was continually prodded into unleashing my “Lakshman” furry until we got back on the ferry. At that point I got brief break and watched them throw potato chips to the seagulls that were flying behind the boat. When they included me and gave me some chips I pretended that I didn’t understand I was supposed to throw them and instead ate the chips. The rowdy group erupted into laughter again and took turns giving me chips as I playfully illustrated that Americans didn’t understand the game they were playing.

I could have hired a tour guide for almost nothing and learned a lot about the island. Very few places that I toured in India dated back to the 7th century, and it would have been a rare experience to learn about the Hindu philosophies of this time period. There were things I would have learned on the island that I never would have learned anywhere else.

Instead, I tagged along with a crew of newfound Indian friends and had a great day filled with trouble making and merriment. The mood of group was similar to the mood I would have been in had I done the trip with my American friends from home. We barely spoke anything of meaning the whole day, but that wasn’t really important. We didn’t need to speak the same language for this trip.

We finished the trip off with an American sports team style huddle. Following my lead, the guys all put their hands in middle. We did a three count and yelled, “Lakshman!” and then I parted ways with them.

I doubt I’ll ever see them again, but I know that’s not really what’s important. It’s important to enjoy little moments like this when they arise. According to Hinduism, our spirits are all connected in a beginningless and endless universe. My spirit has met up with the spirits of those guys at some point many other lifetimes. In prior life one of them was my brother. In another life one of them was my father. In another life one of them was my dog. In another life one of them was a stranger that helped me when my wagon broken down on side of the road. We’ve met countless times before in past lives, and we’ll meet countless times again in the future. The fact that we had a pleasant experience this time and did not do anything dishonest to one another ensures that we’ll have a positive relationship in future lifetimes.

That’s the way I’d like to think about it. For this lifetime “Lakshman” will remain my Indian name and be a good memory of a fun-filled day in Mumbai.

Hair Like a Bollywood Actor

Hair Like a Bollywood Actor

My long blonde hair is a big hit in India. Indians are used to seeing white people with long hair, but those people are usually hippy backpackers with greasy, dreadlocked long hair. I keep mine combed and conditioned. The Indian salesperson complements it to prime me for a sale. The average Indian asks about it before asking to get a picture with me. It’s kind of fun, but it also draws some pretty strange attention.

Jaipur was beautiful but hectic. Amongst other beautiful sites I had toured Albert Hall, Amber Fort, and the Temple of Ganesh. I was worn out by the rickshaw taxi driver though. The ride between sites was headache each time. The rickshaw taxi driver kept bringing me to his friends’ overpriced tourist shops, kept trying to end my tour before the agreed upon time, and kept asking for more money than we had agreed upon. By the time I got back to my hotel I was ready for a freaking drink.

I did my research and found that Jaipur had some of the worst nightlife in India. I had an option though. I had inadvertently agreed to meet up with some Indian vendors that had been trying to sell to me earlier that day.

The rickshaw driver had brought me to this shit jewelry store, and I had repeatedly refused to buy their made-in-China jewelry and knick knacks.

“You have nice long hair sir. It just like Bollywood actor. How about nice cashmere scarf to go with it?”

“No thanks. I’m not buying anything.”

“This is cheap for you sir. You are from America.”

“I know this doesn’t cost much for Americans. I don’t need it. I threw away half of my clothes before this trip, and I don’t need any new ones. On top of that I don’t have a job. On top of that I’m traveling around with a backpack that has limited space. I periodically stop and throw away worthless stuff like this that I don’t need. If I bought this I would have to throw it away.”

When they realized that I wasn’t going to buy any of their worthless shit they decided that they wanted “to be friends, no business”.

After a pre-planned relationship-building talk the one leading the pitch asked me if I wanted to get dinner and drinks with them later so I could have a chance to “hang out with real Indians.”

Trapped in the spell and without thinking I agreed. I immediately realized this hangout between “friends” meant going to their buddy’s restaurant and paying way too much for food and drinks.

“Can you take me to a bar with other tourists?” I asked, “I’d like to meet other backpackers.”

“Why would you want to go to a tourist bar and pay too much for drinks when you can hang out with real Indians?”

My new “friend” had a good point….except that I felt like more of a piggy bank to them. I can’t wait to hang with these dudes who see me as a pocketbook and throw canned sales tactics at me all night. I was thrilled in anticipation of the great cultural discussion we were going to have about handmade suits and jewelry.

“Just remember, you buy your drinks and we buy ours,” he added, meaning, “You buy food from our restaurant at 3x price and we’ll eat here at cost like we do every night.”

He topped it off with the straight-from-scam-school sales technique of giving someone a reputation to live up to, “And that’s why we love Americans. They always keep their promises, so we know you’re going to come. See you at 7.”

I decided as soon as I left that place that I was blowing them off. I didn’t want to get taken to some far off bar and then loaded up with liquor with these Indian guys that I didn’t know. India is pretty safe for tourists, but when you travel alone you have to watch out for yourself. If that means occasionally being rude and dishonest to random strangers so be it.

When I got back I went online and found the only place that popped up when I searched “bar”. It was called TC Bar & Grill. Based on my prior searches for bars in India, I wasn’t completely convinced that it was a real bar. It seemed more like an Indian TG Fridays. I had nothing to do though, and it was only a $3 cab ride away. “Whatever,” I thought, “let’s check it out.”

I arrived at the entrance and saw two bouncers monitoring the entryway that led to a patio with music. It looked decent. I went in, passed through the patio, and walked downstairs. It had a regular, Western-style, bar on the one side, and a dance floor on the other side. It was the first Western-style bar I had seen since I’d been in India. To top it off there was a DJ playing a good mix of American Rock ‘n’ Roll hits.

I went to the bar and got a drink. They would not serve just one beer. Minimum serving was two beers per order. “Great way to get hammered way faster than planned,” I thought. I grabbed a couple and waited at the bar, staring into the blasting music. I stood at the bar waiting for people to come so I could make conversation. Two Indian women came up first. I kept silent as I didn’t want to risk starting any fights while hanging out solo in land that was foreign to me.

I decided that it was best to start off by making some guys friends. A group of three guys came over and I said something about being impressed by the tunes. The shortest guy was wearing a purple shirt and did most of the talking. His name was Apu. He invited me to hang at their table. I had a crew now.

“Where are you from?” Apu asked.

“USA”

“Oh nice. Great country. With your hair I did not think USA.”

“Yeah, it’s different I guess.”

“No it good though. You look like actor from Bollywood.”

So far this was very typical based on the Indians I’ve met. They are generally very friendly and welcoming to outsiders. Also every Indian man is pretty much a world class freestyle dancer. There’s no shyness when it comes to dancing. Public displays of goofy and embarrassing (but kick ass) dance moves are the norm. Watch a Bollywood music video if you want to see what I’m talking about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLUS2pDKmmc

We moved over to the dance floor and the guys started busting out typical crazy Indian dance moves. They pointed at me so I joined them. I introduced some off my offbeat American favs, going mostly with The Penguin, but transitioning back and forth to Double Guns.

After a few minutes I grew tired of the meatfest dance circle, so I took a break and sat down. Apu came over shortly thereafter and started doing some silly dance. He motioned me to get up. I did so and did some retarded move with my hands to keep my new friends happy. I sat back down.

It is also pretty typical of Indian guys to go out in a small group and keep to each other all night. The boldest occasionally try to squeeze their way into the closed off circles of Indian women. Since Indian women generally turn down anyone that they haven’t been introduced to by a friend you see most of the men keeping to themselves. It’s a different scene than what I was used to, but it was that or watching movies at the hotel.

I waited a few songs, and then got up to join the group. Apu put his arm around my shoulder in a friendly gesture. I put my arm over his shoulder for a few seconds before moving aside. He looked at me and made a hand gesture. I thought he was trying to do a hang ten sign with his pinky and his thumb, but he inadvertently included his pointer finger, which made it the “I love you” sign in English sign language. “He must not know what this means,” I thought. He also didn’t know you were supposed to pivot your wrist back and forth when you do a hang ten sign. He just held it there motionless and looked at me, clearly, but inadvertently, telling me he loved me through sign language.

The other thing about Indian men is that they frequently hold hands or walk arm in arm with their guy friends. When I first saw this I thought that India had a disproportionately high gay population, but it turned out that this was just part of the culture. I think the guys seek out a degree of affection from each other because any kind of affection with women is forbidden before marriage. Anyways, as far as I was concerned this was just a group of typical Indian guys. Apu was just getting annoying.

More songs came and Apu periodically came over to embrace me. It was getting a little weird, even by Indian standards. He started to walk to the bar and motioned me to come.

“Do you like here?”

“Yeah it’s good man. Thanks for taking me into your group?”

“Do you have girlfriend in America?”

“No.”

“Why not? You are good looking guy.”

“American culture is very different. We generally get married later.”

This was a pretty standard question from Indian men. They generally can’t have relations with women before they’re married, and so they generally get married earlier than men from the Western world.

“No girlfriend? So what you do later?”

It had gone from a little weird to really weird.

“I’ll go to my hotel and go to sleep.”

“No I’ll join you,” he whispered, making a stroking gesture with his hand.

“No thanks dude. I’m not gay.”

His shoulders slumped forward and he made a frown, “My bad luck.”

“Yeah that’s shitty man. See you later.”

With that I peaced out. From the experience I learned that my long blonde hair occasionally got the attention of gay Indian men. I learned to spot them after that, but some were never shy about asking. It also gave the salespeople another pointless reason to talk to me.

No way I’m going to cut it though. It’s a reflection of my personality and current adventure as a free spirit traveling the world. I’ll put up with the occasional weirdo. Someday it’s going to turn gray and fall out….. sooo I’m going to rock it for now!

Midnight Standoff with a dog

It was about midnight, and Meeka, the Norwegian traveler I had been touring with that day, and I were parting ways. That day we had toured the famous City Palace and Hindu temples of Udaipur.  Then we finished the evening off with hookah and drinks at legendary backpacker hangout Pushkar’s Cafe. The streets were empty, but Meeka insisted on walking home alone. She had been traveling for four months, and I felt confident she knew what she was doing.

“Goodnight” she said as she rounded the corner.

I walked about 30 steps when I heard a shriek, “Jesseee! Help meee!”

I ran around the corner and Meeka was cornered against the wall by a muscular, fierce-looking stray dog. At about 50 pounds it’s one of the largest strays I’ve seen in India.

Meeka was frozen stiff as the canine inched forward growling fiercely.

I sprinted over, positioning myself between Meeka and the dog. The dog was startled for a minute. It backed up a step, and then continued inching forward, growling even more fiercely this time.

Now the rule with dogs is to never show fear. Dogs can sense fear, and for that reason, if you show fear they will consider you as prey chase after you. If you are dealing with an aggressive dog you cannot show that you fear it, you must instead make it fear you. You have to show it that you are the alpha male and will hurt it if you have to.

If Plan A, scare the dog off, didn’t work it’s good to have a Plan B. Plan B was to fight the dog. This dog was about 50 pounds, and if it came down to a scrap a solid kick to the head would most likely send it scampering off. If the kick did not land on target the dog would continue charging, jump up, and bite my arm. At that point with my arm in its mouth I would wrap my legs around it body and grapevine its legs. Given enough pressure this would break the inflexible hips of the canine. At the same time I would apply a rear naked choke on its neck with my free arm. This was the plan. I learned it all from play fighting my German shepherd back home. But just remember my dog was only play-fighting.

That said, I was confident I would win the scrap, but I definitely did not want to get bit by this mangy dog. I should have gotten those damn rabies shots before I left. Hopefully Plan A was going to work.

As the dog came closer I felt my chest tense up and my heart pound rapidly. “It’s time to act,” I told myself. “You must put fear out of the equation. You must become a machine that responds automatically with the correct output to any given input. If you respond with the incorrect output (running away) you and Meeka will get attacked.”

The dog started to run forward.

I jumped back. “I need to run.” The flight instinct was kicking in. “I’m a harmless vegetarian creature with no natural defenses. A dog has teeth and is designed to kill. YOU NEED TO RUN!” the voice in my head resounded.

“GEETTT!” I yelled. I had suppressed my panicked emotional impulse and instead made the logical decision to fire up my emotional aggression.

The dog stopped in its tracks and looked at me sideways. It was confused. It stared at me, studying my new demeanor. The set back was not enough for this alpha dog. It took another step forward and started barking.

I delivered my deepest, raspiest voice, “GET GOING!!”.
The dog stopped again and took a step back.

“GEETTT” I yelled and charged forward three steps.

It worked. The dog ran back about 20 feet. It turned around and continued barking from a distance. I could see up on the ledge there was a female dog that he was protecting. This was causing this territorial display of ferocity. We were ok for the moment, but we need to get out there.

I looked over to my side. Meeka was terrified and standing motionless against the wall.

“Meeka come here. Back up slowly. Whatever you do, don’t run.”

Meeka made a petrifying squeak and started to hurry away.
This was just enough to engage the dog. It charged forward again and stopped about ten feet in front of us. It matched our paces as we backed away.

“Meeka it’s ok, just don’t run.”

Meeka panicked and started running.

The dog attempted to go to my right to get to Meeka. I side stepped to block its path. “GEETTT!!!”

I was eye to eye to with the dog and it was now barking more fiercely. This time it sensed that my charge was fake and was not ready to be fooled again.

It was time to let it know that I wasn’t messing around. I raised my voice and flailed my arms wildly. I took several mechanical and aggressive steps forward. The dog backed up in pace, but continued eyeing me. This move hadn’t won me challenge. I needed to do more. Time for Plan B. Fight the dog. I am going to sprint forward, and if the dog does not run I am going to kick it straight in its lower jaw. Once I commit there’s no turning back. I can fly to Mumbai and get rabies shots tomorrow.

“GEETTT OUUTTT OF HERREE!!!!”

And with that I charged forward. I met eye to eye with dog for the last time. It turned around and ran. This time it did not stop until it was a safe distance away from us.

I turned to see Meeka. She was now wielding a brick. She was about as dangerous as statue.

We backed up slowly. Meeka was petrified. She grabbed my arm tightly, and began babbling some craziness in Norwegian. I grabbed a brick of my own and walked her home.

From that experience I learned that when you walk around at night in India you are supposed to carry a big stick. If you can’t find one find a broken slab of cement from the side walk. If you come across a fierce stray dog all you need to do is raise the stick or brick and yell. Even if you are unarmed raise your arm as if you are going to throw something. These dogs know what the gesture means from being around people on the harsh streets of India. If the dog does not run give it a whack and it’ll get running. Whatever you do, do not run, do not show fear, and demonstrate that you are the alpha on the block. If it comes down to it, let it know that your bite is worse than your bark.

A Day in Udaipur

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A Day in Udaipur

 

I arrived in Udaipur early in the morning via overnight bus.  4:00 AM in the one of the world’s most poverty stricken countries is a fairly scary place.  I’m walking around with about $1000 worth of gear, which is equivalent to the yearly salary of many Indian workers.  I can’t quite figure out yet why I haven’t been robbed yet.  I walked in darkness until I found the nearest rickshaw taxi.

“Can you take me to Hotel Poonam Haveli?”

“Yes sir 100 rupees.”

I’m already getting ripped off but don’t have the energy to haggle.  I think to myself that the 20 minute ride is worth the $2.  I hop in the back.  I have no idea where I am.  This cab driver could kidnap me easily and no one would ever find out it was him.  This has to be safer than walking though.

I woke up the next day, excited to get my first glimpse of “The City of Lakes”.  I walked to the balcony and gazed over Lake Pichola.  The jagged hills, historical Indian architecture, and primitive boats moving slowly across the lake were all glossed over by a smog based haze that made the place seem magical.  It was one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen.

I went out onto the street and the vendors began haggling me to buy cheap rugs, jewelry, and artwork.  I gave the first vendors a few moments of my time but quickly realized I would not get anywhere if I stopped to listen to all of them.

I felt hungry but was afraid to eat anywhere.  I stumbled around until I found another traveler that looked like she knew what she was doing.  She was headed to a place for breakfast, and so I joined her.  Her name was Meeka and she was from Norway.

“Hey thanks.  I feel so out of my element.  I have no idea where is safe to eat here.  In the last town I just went wherever my Indian friends wanted to go,” I began as we sat down at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake.

“Yes it’s tough at first.  I was in the hospital a few weeks ago.  I had really bad food poisoning.”

“Glad I asked you where to eat,” I laughed, revaluating my people sense.

It turned out that Meeka was exploring the city too.  We decided to team up and left for the street.

Right around the corner was Jagdish Temple.  We walked up the long staircase, removed our shoes, and entered the temple.  Like many other sites in the city it was constructed by Maharana Jagat Singh.  It is devoted to the Hindu God, Shiva and adorned with hundreds of other Hindu gods that are carved into the walls.

We walked into the main room, and a small ceremony was in progress.  Hindus do not have a set day of worship as in Christianity.  They make pilgrimages to temples when they wish good fortune from the gods.  I sat down near a group of elderly Indian women that were participating in the procession.  A crazy old Hindu priest was chanting and shaking a stick over the heads of the women.  He passed around this yellowish putty-textured pastry ball.  The women dug their fingers in one after another.

I was at the end of the line and the gooey ball worked its way closer and closer to me.  The old woman next to me licked her fingers, preparing to thrust them into the ball.  As she pulled her finger out of her mouth a strand of saliva was still bridging her mouth to her finger.  It broke and rested on her finger as she used the finger to pinch a loaf off of the pastry.  She smiled at me and passed the treat, happy that I was participating in her culture.  The saliva had been transfer from her finger onto the only untouched piece.  This was my cue to leave.  Thank you for showing me your culture, but I’m going to pass this time.

We made the short walk over to City Palace.  As we walked through we viewed elegant paintings of elephant fights, tiger hunts, and glorious celebrations.  Those ancient Hindus knew how to live well.

Most of the relics were in honor of a former ruler named Maharana Jagat Singh.  Singh had inherited a rich, but poorly planned Udaipur, and he had a vision that would change the city.  Udaipur, like most cities in India throughout history, was way over populated.  It lacked the water it needed to sustain its population.  Singh had his subjects divert a nearby river to create a large lake.  Udaipur had the water it needed to grow.  The people were happy and celebrated by having tons of babies until the city became overpopulated again.

Indians love company.  They have a very social culture, and place little value on space.  When the next ruler took over he soon became unhappy because when he went through the streets he could see gaps in between the people.  “My city is far too under populated,” he declared, and commissioned the construction of another lake.  The people were happy and the population continued to grow.  This process continued with succeeding rulers until the city had five really dirty lakes and way too many people.

When we walked through the other side we saw large murals depicting the glorious battles of Maharana Pratap.  Pratap was basically this kick ass leader that possessed just about every noble quality a man could have.  When he rode his elephant horse into battle he could single handedly take on 100 men, slay a full-grown elephant, and cut a man clean in half with one fell swoop.  He took on a very powerful Mogul army, implementing guerrilla warfare tactics to wear them down before finishing them off in a final battle.

When the evening came around we went out on the street in search of something to do.  Because the James Bond hit Octopussy was filmed here, all of the restaurants show it in the evening.  Literally almost all of them had signs up with the message “James bond here”, “Octopussy at 7:00”.  It was funny because the amount of restaurants showing that same movie at that exact same time seemed to exceed the amount of tourists out at night.  I felt bad for the guy that did it first.

We really didn’t want to spend two hours of my short stay watching a movie, so we ventured through town looking for other places that could be interesting.  There wasn’t much, and we had all but decided to give up when we saw a blue light coming from a second floor restaurant called Pushkar’s Café.  We walked closer and heard dance music.

“Potential,” I thought.

We went in and sat down at one of the hookah tables.  I started bullshitting with some backpackers and had some beers.  Then Pushkar came out and introduced himself.  He had a very likeable personality.  A few hours later he turned the venue into a dance party and DJ’ed it himself.  The scene turned from a mellow hookah bar into a European dance club with drunken backpacker girls stumbling all over the dance floor.

I strongly recommend Udaipur if you tour through Northwest India.   Keep in mind though that it’s not for the average resort/cruiseliner-going type of tourist .  You will learn a lot about Hindu culture, but also see some of the major problems in India.  It is highly polluted.  I first grasped what highly polluted meant when I was in this town.  My throat was constricted for the duration of my stay, and I could barely see the hilltops because of the heavy smog.  Additionally, the streets are packed with a continuous stream of people and motorcycles.

Pollution and overpopulation is standard in any Indian town.  I’m a bit hard on it because I believe any government should take action to reduce these problems.  Some of these actions, such as implementing techniques to gradually reduce population size or removing the stray animals from the streets go against Hindu beliefs, and so I don’t expect these problems to go away anytime soon.

That said if you decide to visit Udaipur I recommend the following schedule.

9:00 AM Wake up

10:00 AM Visit Jagdish Temple

11:00 AM Tour City Palace

12:00 PM Lunch

1:00PM Hire rickshaw taxi to visit Ranakpur Jain Temple*

5:00 PM Take boat ride on Lake Pichola to watch the sunset*

7:00 PM Go to Pushkar’s Cafe for food, drink, and hookah.  Dance party likely.

*Did not experience this for myself, but would definitely do it if I visited again.

The best time to travel!

The best time to travel is now! Like right now! Read my article on the international checklist and drive to the nearest airport and get on the next international flight. Be spontaneous! Well at least once you are done reading this article you can go on your merry way.

There are many reasons why people don’t get out of their comfort zone and see the world or even the next state. But the worse excuse is “I’m Busy.” The last time I checked, we only had one life to live, so why waste that time being busy and not taking the time to explore this beautiful world? Now, I’m not saying you use every bit of your time traveling the world (but if you have the money for it, do it) but for the rest of us who are working a 9am-5pm or longer, ask yourself this question? When was the last time you took the time to go visit an aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, or best friend in the next town or the next country? When was the last time you and your spouse went somewhere together and just enjoyed where you are? No work deadlines, no annoying family members, insert any distraction in that sentence. The point is, when was the last time you took a break?

Some of us go through life thinking that we have an abundance of time and tomorrow is promised. When in actuality, it’s not promised. From the time you were born, your time on Earth started ticking till the day you meet your maker. I am not trying to be dramatic. Just putting things in perspective.

As a society, we need to learn to take mini vacations. You don’t have to wait till you’re retired to enjoy the good life. Enjoy it as you go. You don’t need to go around the board once to collect $200. Traveling gives you a different perspective on life that you can’t get behind a cash register or working in a cubicle. I’ve made it a personal goal to visit at least one new country every year. So far I’ve traveled to many parts of South East Asia and China and that in it’s self is a life changing experience.

“You are guest in my country”

By the time I arrived at the bus station in Udaipur I had only 20 minutes before my bus departed.  No one in the area spoke any meaningful amount English.  I quickly realized that few Western tourists travel by bus.  I guess the Indian tourism council had not yet caught up with the multibillion dollar backpacker industry.

I went over to the attendant, point at my ticket, and say “Jaipur”.  He points the direction of the buses.  I walk over and all the buses are in Hindi.  This is different as the last bus I took was in both Hindi and English.  I find another attendant, hand him my paper, and he mills it over with two other non-English speakers.  After about five minutes I realize that I’m going to miss my bus if these guys keep going at this rate so I start looking around for help.

I see an Indian guy in his early 20s who is dressed up a bit more Western.  General rule of thumb when you travel is the more Western the dress, the better the person’s English is.

“Do you speak English?” I ask.

“Yes. More British English. But what is question?” he replies.

“I’m going to Jaipur on an A/C bus. Do you know where that is?”

“One minute.”  He goes and gets the paper from the guys. “You are on private bus.  It is not here”

I only have 10 minutes now, and I really want to get out of Updaipur.  If I have to walk by another stinky goat I’m going to freak out.

“You are right down road.  Follow me.”

“Thanks,” I said, “you are really saving me.”

“It’s ok.  You are guest in my country so I help you.”

His name was Rishi, and he was studying to be a doctor at a college in the next state over.  We hurry across the busy Udaipur street and arrive at the private bus station.  With five minutes to spare we had arrived at the right one.

Figuring that he was in school I figured he was born into a well off family.  I did not know if it was right or not to offer money for his help.

“Can I say thank you?” I said and pulled out my wallet.

“Yes” he said, misunderstanding the gesture.

I pulled out 100 rupees.

“No,” he refused. “I am not poor.  You are guest in my country.”

With that he walked off.  I got in line for my bus.  He returned a few minutes later, “I miss my bus, but it ok I catch next one.”

That guy missed his bus to help out a total stranger.  He saved the day for me though.  I almost definitely would have missed my bus.  I get the feeling that Indians in the touristy areas of, even the poor and uneducated ones, have a good understanding of how important tourism is to their lives.  The Hinduism religion teaches to worship the forces help or hurt you.  I feel that because this is deeply rooted in their religion, it becomes part of their personalities, and you often see selfless acts like that.

I experienced a similar situation in Jaipur one night when I returned to my hotel after hours.  I had to wake up the owner so he could let me in.  I told him I was sorry, and he replied, “You are my guest.  Guest is my god.”

It seems that in polytheistic religions, people create gods around the forces that affect their lives.  There are major gods like Brahma, who is the creator of the universe, and then there are lesser gods like Balarama, who is the god of farming.  Indian farmers pray to Balarama when they need a good harvest.  Perhaps this man prayed to the god of Western tourism.  We’ll call him Gringorama.  Make sacrifice or you will be cursed with bad ratings on hostelbooker.com.

Driving in India

They say if you can drive in India then you can drive anywhere.  I quickly found out why.

The typical drive down a street in Indian goes something like this.  Pull out onto the street on the left hand side of the road (same as British).  There will have been a constant stream of traffic, and so you will most likely have to cut off multiple vehicles to get onto the road.  You will get beeped at several times and soon be surrounded on all four sides by motorcycles.  Then, since your destination is in the opposite direction, you pull a u-turn into oncoming traffic to get going on the opposite direction on the other side of the road.  Again, this is followed by multiple high pitched honks from other drivers.  You drive off weaving in and out of traffic and then have to slam the breaks as an unfazed and oblivious cow lazily makes its way across the street.   You continue driving until a Rickshaw, a 3-wheeled motor-scooter taxi, is coming at you in your lane.  A line of unfazed Indian drivers slows down, delivering gentle beeps that seems to accomplish little more than to note the event.  You finally see your destination on the opposite side of the road and so you cut over into oncoming traffic.  You drive head on into the oncoming traffic for about 200 feet until you arrive at your destination.

No drive is completed in India unless you’ve delivered at least 10 to 12 beeps of the car horn.  Now in India beeping doesn’t mean you’re angry at someone.  While the long wailing horn on American vehicles gives out a “Waaaaaah!!!!…. You’re a bleep” blast, the horn on Indian vehicles gives out a “Babeep! – Hey friend!” high-pitched honk.  Another thing to note is that in India you beep for any reason you can possibly think of.

Below is a list of the main reasons you beep your horn while driving in India:

  • When you approach a scooter that is going too slow.
  • When a motorcycle crosses in front of you without looking.
  • When you’re about to cross in front of somebody.
  • When a Riskah taxi is coming at you the wrong way down the street.
  • When you are going the wrong way down the street at a Rickshaw taxi that is going the right way.
  • When someone is making a u-turn and you have to slow down.
  • Whenever you pass by a cow.
  • Whenever herds of cows mindlessly cross the street in front of you as if they were invulnerable to fast moving cars.
  • Whenever you are trying to park and pedestrians are surrounding the parking space for no particular reason.
  • Whenever you get behind a slow moving truck.  Slow moving trucks have “Honk Please” written in bold letters on the back of them, so give a honk when one is in your way and it will pull over to let you go.
  • Whenever a popular party song that you like comes on the radio.

If none of the above has happened and you haven’t given the car a good beeping in 5 minutes or so then beep 3 or 4 times just to let everyone know you are ok.

Additionally, cargo trucks will drive down the highway beeping in unison to classic Indian songs on the radio.

Indian cows don’t go the long way around.

Ummmm…probably the coolest van ever.  Road trip anyone?

I’m a slow truck.  Please honk at me!

Rickshaw taxi.  Locals rate: $0.40/km, Tourist rate $1.00/km

 

 

This article was written by Jesse Freda