A Travellerspoint blog

March 2010

The Joy of Travel part 3

Delhi Belly and beyond


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Back in Varanasi Meghan and I are both sick and are leaving to get on an overnight train to Khajuraho…

A loud and bumpy rickshaw ride brought across the city to the busy train station. Every inch of floor space was occupied by travelers who had spread out blankets on the cold concrete to sleep. Our 11:30pm train was delayed and re-scheduled to arrive at 12:10am. At 12:15, a train that was not ours pulled up and before it even came to a stop the platform was alive with swarms of people flowing from the 2nd class cars. It was an intense mob scene and where Meghan an I were on the platform was quickly overcome with people. I quickly slung both of our bags over my shoulder and retreated to an empty spot along the back wall of the platform. In the midst of all this our train had been switched to a different platform as it was arriving. I did not hear any of this over the static white noise that pretended to be a loudspeaker. Somehow another foreign tourist from Switzerland spotted us and told us about the switch. We hustled up and over the tracks to the new platform just as our train was arriving. The false promise of bumping up in class quickly fizzled out as the conductor was nowhere to be found. After running the length of the long train we boarded moments before the train departed. Somehow during all of this, the sickness that was still in my body was not affecting me, if it had we may have not made it out of Varanasi that night. We boarded the train to find a party going on in our cabin. In a space set for six there were at least 10 young guys that were all fired up. We waited patiently for them to get settled and when it did not happen I decided to just jump in and make our presence felt. This is one of the benefits of traveling in a country full of small people. When you need to throw your weight around you usually have the most. I pushed my way into the cabin. Cleared about 5 guys out of the way and packed our backpacks under one of the seats. Next it was on to their luggage. I informed them that we were pulling the bed up and to kindly move their crap. This was met with little resistance and before you know it we were both horizontal and hopeful to sleep. This did not come so easy. At first the guys wanted to talk, ask were I was from, the usual routine. Then they wanted to buy American dollars from me. They were all on a visiting Badminton team that had just won a tournament and were loudly celebrating. I gave in and almost forgot about how tired, frustrated, and sick I was while they all passed the one dollar bill around starring at it in wonder. As soon as I laid down my sickness returned and I could hardly breath. As there was not enough headroom to sit up this created a problem. Saliva was filling my mouth, I could not breath through my nose, and I felt like I was going to suffocate. With all this it was very difficult to fall asleep and my mood and health deteriorated. I was able to find sleep until I woke in the middle of the night needing to go to the bathroom I realized that my sandals were missing. While looking all around I noticed the floor was also all wet but did not really think twice about it figuring I had spilled my water bottle or something. Frustrated I gave up and wedged my feat into Meghan’s sandals and went to the restroom. Later that morning when we both finally got out of our beds we realized that my sandals had been stolen in the night and the wetness on the floor was actually vomit from one of the kids on the badminton team. This alone would not have been all that bad if it was not for the fact that our backpacks had absorbed most of the moisture and were dripping wet with stinking vomit. In utter disgust we wrapped up our bags up in the rain covers, something we should have done in the first place, and carried them off the train by the handles, as the harness was soaked. Unfortunately we were still 4 hours by local bus to Khajuraho. Feeling completely worked at this point and at the point of giving in to India, I accepted the first offer for a rickshaw at twice the acceptable price and let the guy carry my filthy bag. Before long we were at the bus station with tickets purchased and ready to go. Little did I know the ordeal that awaited us or I would have laid down whatever the cost of a private car. On the bus we were in the second row which was good for the bumps and the bends but my legs were to long to fit into the seat so I had to sit at an angle with my legs into the aisle. This became a problem as the bus stopped and picked up more and more people. I have been on many overcrowded “chicken” busses in all of our travels and usually I take it for what it is and usually have fun with it. This was unbearable. There was a sense of urgency amongst the passengers when the bus got really full and people were really fighting for position and pushing hard to get on and off. The fact that my legs were stuck out in the aisle in the front of the bus meant that as people shifted around each time the bus stopped, and it stopped a lot, my legs were in the way. Regardless of how little room there was and how crushed I already was people would push harder and harder until they got buy. Combined with the sickness, the night on the train with the puke and stolen sandals, this put me over the edge. When I was about to explode some young girl gets on the bus with an infant maybe a few months old. She is right beside me and is getting crushed in the aisle. The kid is wedged in between indifferent men who don’t notice or don’t care that they are practically suffocating an infant. I got up and offered her my seat when nobody else would and she quickly sat down without a word of thanks or even a smile. At this point some old woman took the opportunity to chisel her way in between me and the seat with every jostle of the bus and bend in the road. I did what I could to fight back, and I really felt like I was fighting back, but I was not going to push some old lady out of my way. After a few minutes the bus stopped and the girl with the baby got off and the old hag threw herself into my seat! She did not give me one look to ask permission, acknowledge she swiped my seat, or thank me for making it available. I always give my seat up to people who need it more than I do but this royally pissed me off. Fortunately we were not that far from Khajuraho and when we got there I immediately laid down and did not leave the room for the rest of the day. Instead I sat in a small room brooding over my frustrating day and night. My suffering was intensified by music that was blaring through the windows and walls from a town fair across the way. This would go on all day and into the night And I was very close to pulling the plug on India and fleeing to the cool wintery embrace of Colorado. Little did I know at that point of almost giving in that India would open up to me and draw me back in the days to come.

Posted by pmunson 09:46 Archived in India Comments (2)

“A Teardrop on the Cheek of Eternity”

Khajuraho and the Taj Mahal


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Khajuraho was a nice change of pace. The town was small and easy to negotiate on foot. The reason we visited here was to view the Kama Sutra sculptures and the incredible temple art that covered three groups of world heritage listed temples. The Temples here are over 1,000 years old and are said to have some of the best temple art in the world. Certainly the best I have seen. The temples are covered top to bottom in intricate stonework. The amount of detail from the largest sculptures to the smallest borders and filler pieces is outstanding. The recurring theme here becomes obvious as countless large breasted women and erotic scenes adorn the temple walls. Awestruck we slowly explored the neatly manicured grounds taking in all the temples with plenty of long breaks in the shade of many nice treas. After the day before this was just what the doctor ordered… a nice peaceful and quiet day in a grassy outdoor setting. A stark contrast to our fist week or so in India.

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That evening we checked out the fair that was pumping out the loud music that kept us from enjoying our room. It was not more than a few dusty lanes with market stalls aimed mostly for locals. People were mulling around but there was not much going on. We found the source of the music but there was no band, or stage, or anyone even paying attention. Just a guy with a mike and a loud stereo. On our way out we got talking with two high school kids named Shubham and Ashok. Shubham spoke really good English and was a joy to speak to. He was really smart and in addition to English he knew basic Japanese and some Polish. We spoke with them for a long time and before long actually let our guard down when we realized they were not out to sell us anything. They joined us for dinner and through our conversations they told us that they wanted to know how to use face book. As they had taught us some Hindu, and were the first people who did not try to sell us something, I decided I would get them set up on face book. I am not sure if this is a goof thing or a bad thing but It was fun, and I know that they enjoyed it.

They next day we rented bicycles and they took us around the old part of town that they lived in. This included visiting a few other temples that were outside the main group that we visited before. This gave us a fresh look at a quieter more gentle India. The peaceful little town was surrounded by green fields and dirt tracks were kids played and water buffalo, oxen, and cows roamed. The temples here were not all as well persevered but were easily as enjoyable when combined with our impromptu tour guides and the country setting. Shubham invited us into his home which consisted of an open air room with a dirt floor, a small kitchen, and one living room were the family of six slept. It was about 10x12 at the largest. In the living room we discovered a 5 hour old baby goat that Meghan instantly fell in love with. Shubam’s mother made chai and his father, sister, and mother all sat with us and listened in as we spoke and struggled to use some limited words in Hindu. This was a great experience for us and really put me back on track with India. Just a day before I was hiding in my room ready to book a flight out of the country and here I was the following day In a local home sharing chai with people who are just as interested in me as I am in them.

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Shubham, Ashok, and Meghan check out an ancient Brama Temple
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Two kids help each other take a bath at the water pump
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Gift Shop
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Old houses, old town
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Baby Goat
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Khajuraho Crew

Another overnight train but this time we upped the comfort level and ride in the AC class. Here we found more comfortable seats and much less coming and going as we did in sleeper class. Our train was due to arrive in Agra at 2:00 am so we laid down early and I was actually able to get some sleep. Going with the increased comfort theme, we also scheduled a pickup and a hotel in Agra. The Train pulled in about 2 hours late and just as we were about to give into the rickshaw drivers, figuring that our pickup had split, I heard my name being called out and we were whisked away to the Suraya Guest house just outside the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. It was a little after 4:00am when we finally got into our room and we had about 2 hours to sleep before getting in line for the sunrise rush on the Taj. The Taj Mahal is not open on Fridays so we did not have much choice but to push on through and I am glad we did. After waiting in line to get in at 7:00 we finally made it through the airport security like checkpoint, rounded the corner, and got out first glimpse of this spectacular building.

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Sunrise over Agra
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First Glimpse

The Taj Mahal has been described as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity”, “the Embodiment of all things pure”, and its own creator said “it made the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes” It is sincerely an impressive architectural masterpiece and deserves the large numbers of tourists it draws every day. It is amazing to think that such an amazing building is a monument to lost love, an grieving husbands memorial to a wife who died in labor. After jockeying for position for the quintessential shot of the reflecting pool we made our way through the gardens and up close.

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Piling in for that perfect shot
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Sleep Deprived Munslers
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More Taj Less Munslers

Up close the fine detail of the inlaid precious stones and the texture of the creamy marble accentuated the raw beauty of the massive structure. The amount of detail work covering the outside and inside was endless. It took 20,000 craftsmen 8 years to finish the main building and the detail work it contains. One item that was particularly impressive both for the amount of skilled carving they must have taken and for the fact that they have survived for 350 years were the window screens. These were 100% marble tablets carved into a fine stone mesh. The patience this must of taken I can not understand.

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Detail Work
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Semi precious stone inlays
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Perspective symmetry
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Long distance close up
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The Gardens

We took our time heading out finding different vantage points to sit and relax. Finally we retreated to the hotel and went in for a much deserved afternoon nap. In the afternoon we explored the Agra Fort. This large fort holds many different palaces and buildings and was a pleasure to explore. For the first time on our trip we decided to go for a tour guide and actually really enjoyed it. The Agra fort is considered one of the finest Mughal Forts in all of India. Within it heavily fortified walls were many different palaces, halls, mosques, and living quarters. Our guide painted a picture of the life of royalty in the 1600’s and brought the fort to life for us. That Evening we found a rooftop restaurant and watched sunset over Agra. The day ended as it began at that tender moment between light and dark with the pastel light of the low lying sun painting the milky white marble features
features of the Taj Mahal..

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Walls Of Agra Fort
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Inside the Fort
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Detailed Carvings on red Sandstone
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Light and Shadows in the Pearl Mosque (Moti Masjid)
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More detail work with semi precious stone inlay as in the Taj Mahal
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Meghan at the Ladies Mosque
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More hand carved window screens. Here in Red sandstone. The ones at the Taj Mahal were Marble and even finer mesh but I did not photograph them.
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Shan Jahan’s view from his prison in the Agra Fort
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Elaborate Ceilings in the public meeting hall
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Rooftop Taj View

Posted by pmunson 09:47 Archived in India Comments (1)

Painted Elephants’ and Purple Indians

Jaipur


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The capital city of Rajasthan held our interest longer than we thought it would. We met some really nice people, experienced some Bollywood, took in a fun festival, and celebrated the Indian Festival of Color, Holi. We stayed in a nicer hotel than usual near the old city and were really comfortable. One of the first things we did was set out to explore the old part of the city, or what we thought was the old part of the city. We found ourselves amongst tons of happy kids out in the street brimming with excitement for the upcoming Holi and accompanying Elephant Festival. We were not in the “Old City” but a little neighborhood and when we realized we were lost we grabbed an cycle rickshaw to the city palace were snake charmers rose cobras over hypnotic music all for the tourist rupee. The city palace building was a bit of a let down after the palaces of Agra Fort but we still took the time to explore it all.

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Most Expensive photograph of the trip to date!
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Marble Elephant, City Palace
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Pink Sandstone Walls of the Jaipur City Palace
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Decorative doorways in a courtyard of the City Palace

That night we visited a huge Hindi movie theatre to see the current hit flic, “My Name is Khan” The place had to seat over 1000 people and apparently was the #1 movie theatre in all of India and often used for grand openings of big Bollywood hit films.

We were in Jaipur at the time of an annual Elephant Festival and for the Festival of Color or Holi. A large outdoor area played host to many elephants painted in bright colors for the occasion, a multitude of camels, and a few horses. Their were bands and dancing to go along with the competitions and games. It all took place in a chaotic tangle of spectators and animals as their was nobody keeping the hordes of people in the stands and off the playing fields were all the animals were. At one point Meghan and I found ourselves on the inside edge of a ring of people who had encircled the area were the Elephants were to play football (soccer). All of a sudden the huge animals were running around kicking (mostly just popping) beach balls with only a ring of soft human bodies to keep the animals at bay. All of a sudden their was a breach in one part of the circle and all the Elephants started moving out into the crowd. There was no real panic or mass hysteria but we both had visions of being trampled in a riot of panicked Indians and tourists. The whole thing ended with the Elephants playing Holi. Playing Holi is throwing colored powder and water on your friends, family, and people you meet in the street. It is the Indian festival of color and celebrated with enthusiasm all around northern India. In this case the Elephants made their way in and around a large crowd and their handlers and passengers tossed colored powder by the handful on the reveling crowd below. There is a tradition on the night before Holi to burn fires in the street. During the day people had been building towers of wood and hay in preparation up and down all the streets of the old town. As we exited the arena the lighting parties were just getting started. Men on motorbikes and by foot were swarming the streets with torches igniting all the fires. People were singing and dancing in the street and it was an incredible scene to behold. Had we no prior knowledge of this event it would have been quite a startle but as we were prepared the mob of fire bearing men did not startle us!

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One of the performers caught in town on the way to the festival
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The festival started with a procession of the bands and animals
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We love Camels!
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And Elephants!
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Playing Holi by Elephant
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Igniting the fires in the streets of Jaipur
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The next day was the real celebration. Our new friend Ankit who we had spent the prior day with, a day meant for sight seeing but ended up sipping chai and chatting with locals, had invited us to come and celebrate with him and his friends and family. He lived outside of town so we got up early and hired a rickshaw to where he would pick us up. Ankit showed up after a few moments on his motorcycle and the three of us piled on and sped away to his home. A bunch of his friends were waiting on the street and it was only a few seconds before we were covered in different colored powders and wished a happy Holi by numerous new people. Meghan was pulled into a crowd of young girls covered in purple who were franticly dancing to Hindi music cranked up to 11! Everyone was in high spirits and having so much fun.

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Meghan gets down with the girls
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Holi Hai! - The little dude in front makes me smile!
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Back on the Bikes

Before we knew it we were back on the bikes. This time it was 9 of us on three bikes and Meghan and I got separated. This made me nervous at first but I trusted Ankit and his friends and it turned out that Meghan also felt like he was looking out for her. It quickly became apparent that the women in India do not celebrate the holly with the same intensity as the guys. Meghan was the only girl in our crew and the next few stops we made were spent trying to convince the girls to come out and play using Meghan as bait. We went from one house to another spreading color and holiday greetings before stopping at Ankit’s employers house. He was treated to the “strong color”, a skin dying bath with dye that would leave the skin turned purple for three days. Meghan and I both had fun with the powder but graciously refused offers to be doused in the dye.

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The strong color
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Holi Color
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Meghan Gets covered
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We all loaded up again and made a few more stops before returning to the bosses house. When we did their were drummers out in the driveway and all the guys were dancing to the beat while the timid neighborhood woman peered through window screens, from nearby balconies, and from the safe distances of the neighbors front porches. The men in India are all very affectionate and close in a way that westerners might consider a little weird or queer. It is not uncommon to see guys holding hands while walking the street or showing affection with an arm around a shoulder or something of the like. This carried over to the dance and all the guys we rode with that day jammed out to the drumming in a rainbow (wink wink) of the color we had spread that morning.

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Dancing in the Driveway

From there it was back into the old city were one of the old buildings was the sight for a big dinner together. We climbed to the second floor were we found an open aired courtyard. As a chicken stew cooked over a charcoal fire we all shared stories. A large carpet was set out on the stone floor and we all sat down to eat. It was absolutely delicious and enjoyed by all. As I moped up the last of my stew with the amazing naan bread I knew that on this day we had a completely unique experience. One unlike anything we had experienced in our travels so far and one that can not be duplicated. Our new friends showed us a slice of their life and how they celebrate it.
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Ankit in red at our post Holi diner

The next day we went to the Amber fort near Ankit’s home. We were hoping to meet up but unfortunately we had slept in and he had already gone to work. The fort was as interesting on the inside as it was beautiful on the outside. We wondered the courtyards and passageways exploring the nooks and crannies of the generally all access buildings. On the way out we discovered that you could go down underground and explore the secret passageways. These were really renovated and only a small portion was open to the public but it was still really cool.

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Amber Fort
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Camels outside the fort
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Surviving murals on the main gate
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Looking Down on the town from the fort
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Ornately Appointed Panels and Archways
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Inside the Fort
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I have mentioned how We are constantly the subjects of Indians photos, here Meghan poses with Mom and Baby as Dad snaps away

Posted by pmunson 08:10 Archived in India Comments (2)

Pushkar to Bundi

A Friendly family and fantastic forts

96 °F
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Pushkar 03/02/10 to 03/04/10

It was a quick 2 hour bus ride from Jaipur to Ajmer, the point where we would switch buses to Pushkar. Once in Ajmer we found it was easy to get a bus to Pushkar and even refused the first bus as it was already too full for us to sit. Meghan was perfectly content to sit on her bag in the aisle but I did not want to press my luck and told her that I wanted to wait for the next bus. She relented, and dragged her bag off of the overcrowded bus and onto the next one were I would be more comfortable. We let a hotel tout who was on the bus sell us on a place to stay and had a ride waiting at the bus stop when we arrived in Pushkar. It turned out to be nice enough and a little removed from the busy tourist strip by the “lake”. Pushkar is the smallest town we have visited in India so far at just over 14,000 people and it had a small town feel to it. The big draw is the holy lake that attracts pilgrims and foreigners alike, as well as an annual Camel Fair. We missed the Camel fair but saw the fair grounds were over 200,000 people and 50,000 camels arrive each year! Steamboat Springs, Colorado were we lived prior to this trip is about the same size as Pushkar and feels like it is bursting at the seams when we have 15,000 visitors on the busy winter holidays. I could not imagine what 250,000 people and camels would do to Pushkar! Currently the lake is dry due to problems with an “infection” in the water a few year years back. The lake was dredged and drained and left to refill with monsoon rain. The last few monsoon seasons have been poor and everyone is hoping this monsoon will fill the lake. Regardless, the 52 bathing ghats encircling the dirt patch was beautiful, to see it filled with water and the accompanying the reflection would have been quite a sight. Once refilled holy water from the Ganga will be brought and poured into the lake to make the waters holy again . We spent 2 short days in Pushkar and unfortunately Meghan was inflicted with another bought of the stomach sickness. We spent the morning together in the shade of a gazebo above one of the bathing Ghats before she retired to the room with fever to rest. I decided to get out and stretch my legs and went for a good walk that lead me out of town and up to a temple that stood atop a 750 foot hill. On my climb I came across and old women on the steep staircase cut into the rocks. She reached her hand out to me and I helped her to her feet. She had a hunched back and could not stand up straight yet she sped up the steep hillside past a couple of out of breath foreign tourists who were younger than I! I really had to push it hard to pass her and was amazed by the strength in her old legs. From my elevated vantage point I could see the town, surrounding hills, farmland, and arid desert stretching out to the north. I stayed to watch the sun set before returning to the room and turning in.

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Bathing Ghats surrounding the empty lake
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Pushkar Palace, Bathing Ghat, and dry lakebed
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More street cow action
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Pushkar from above
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One must embrace the Pushkar rules and regulations… just not in public.

Bundi - 03/04/10 to 03/07/10

Set beneath an imposing fort the sky blue Brahmin homes and narrow lanes of Bundi set a picture perfect postcard scene from the window of our bus as we rounded one final corner and into town. A long, hot, and often bumpy ride through small towns packed with character, and characters, brought us to this lovely town. We had to search for a rickshaw at the bus station to bring us into town, a very unusual event when compared to the persistent presence of rickshaw drivers everywhere else we have been. We asked to go to an old Haveli, a traditional Rajasthani home, that we found lavishly decorated with Indian antiques and art. It was absolutely beautiful and just outside our price range at $20 a night! We decided to go sit outside in the shade for a bit to discuss the pros and cons of a budget busting room and to inquire about other nearby accommodation. While I was searching out other options Meghan was approached by a young man who recommended the Palace View Home stay. When I came back from viewing rather uninspiring rooms I agreed to let the young man lead me to the guest house. We turned up a narrow lane and worked our way up alleyways and over crumbling staircases away from the main road. As feelings that I was being taken for a ride started brewing we stopped and knocked on the door of an rather ordinary looking home. I was greeted by Sema and her two daughters. She showed me a well appointed room in her small home with two windows looking directly at the impressive Bundi Palace. The genuinely friendly and trustworthy feeling radiating from these three women was heart warming and I decided immediately that this was the place for us to stay.

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Palace View from Palace View Home Stay and Palace View Home Stay View from Palace!
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Bundi’s Blue Rooftop’s

This turned out to be a real home stay in the best definition of the term. Sema and her husband Durga had only one room to rent and it was nearly half the size of their modest home. The rest consisted of a tiny kitchen, smaller than most American pantries and a small room that husband, wife, two daughters, and a son slept and lived in. This was all complemented nicely with the best rooftop in all of Bundi. We were the highest on the hill and had a commanding view of the Palace. After we put in a request for our dinner, and Durga returned from his shop nearby, we learned more about our hosts. Durga was an artist, he was a cheery and personal man with a contagious sense of humor and heart warming laugh that erupted after almost every statement! His shop was a stones through away at a desirable location just inside the palace gates. He had just started offering his front room to lucky travelers last summer and we were fortunate to have been brought to him as he does not advertise other than in his own shop. His Sister in-law prepared the food for us. She went to the market to buy the vegetables for our dishes as we ordered them. Side note, other than two or three meals with chicken we have been on a vegetarian diet since our arrival in India over three weeks ago. I have had exactly one glass of whisky and only one lonely beer. I did not expect it to be so easy to eat only vegetables and go with out alcohol but when it is not presented to you it is amazing how much you do not miss it. The parts of India we have visited have weird liquor laws and while most places can arrange for some hooch or a beer it is rarely on the menu or out in the open. Anyway, the food that was prepared fresh from market veggies were amazing. All other food is now ruined as I am sure this will not be duplicated for me if not just in taste than in my memory of the entire situation. Durga kept us entertained with his unmistakable charm as we passed the long wait while veggies were procured and flat breads were made from scratch. We sat on his rooftop, on the top of the city, before the impressive palace view, and ate great food and enjoyed pleasant conversation. This would set the tone for our stay in what is so far my favorite place in India.

Going back to the early 1600’s the Bundi Palace is built into a hillside with towering walls rising high above the town. An ancient series of cobblestone ramps lead to an huge gate adorned with two massive carved elephants raising there trunks together to form an archway to the inside.
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Elephant Gates

For many years this palace was left to the encroaching vegetation, bats, and resident monkeys but recently has been cleaned up and now is amongst Rajasthan’s finest. The whole place shows signs of its lengthy abandon but a few treasures still remain. This was part of the reason I liked it here so much. The fort and palace were a humble witness to an ancient time with little more than a dusting to reveal there faded glory. One room in the palace that we particularly enjoyed was filled with murals and paintings that had survived the years with out any protection of the elements. There were proof of some vandals but mostly remained for all to enjoy. The fact that this was not behind glass or monitored by some sort of security is so unique to me. I feel that if this had been in America it would have not lasted as long as it did with out protection or greater vandalism.

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Meghan studies some old art
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Old Murals delicately surviving the test of time

Working our way up the hillside to more areas of the palace we found more impressive art and interesting architecture.
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More Murals in the upper reaches of the palace
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Pillared Courtyard showing pilfered adornments
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Manicured garden in the fort
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Detail of an old door

In the afternoon we visited the vegetable market that provided our daily meals and found a relaxing public park to rest in the shade alongside a 46 meter deep step well that was built at the turn of the 17th century.

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A very micro view of the large Bundi Vegetable market

Knowing how long dinner could take we place our order early and let Durga know that we were going to climb up above the palace to the old fort and watch the sunset before we would return to eat. We climbed up past the palace on the cobblestone ramps and further up past remains of old buildings and along the fort wall as it worked its way up the hillside. At this point we wished we were kicking down the cobblestones feeling groovy as Simon and Garfunkle would sing it but instead we were crawling up the cobblestones feeling sweaty! We switchback up an even steeper cobblestone ramp that was lined with thickets of thorn bushes that led up to the impenetrable entrance of the Taragarh or Star Fort. Dating back to 1354 this was an overgrown relic of a small town and palaces that laid within the protection of the double walls of the hilltop fort. Climbing through a small door within the huge second gate I felt like I was 10 years old again playing Indiana Jones in the woods behind my childhood home. There were no signs telling you what way to go, no entry fees, and no people around. It was just us and the fort.
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Bundi Fort from above
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Heading to the upper fort
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Thorn bushes that protected the entryway to the fort and penetrated the soles of my boots
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Sharp spikes on the first gate to discourage an army of charging Elephants

I left Meghan atop one of entry gate buildings and set off on a whistle stop tour of the large fort before the setting sun pushed it all into darkness. I found a lot more than expected and knew that a second trip was necessary, so I decided I would save the real investigation for a 2nd day. The sun settled into some low lying clouds depriving us of the romantic sunset over the Blue Brahman houses of Bundi and the illuminated fort so we went back down the cobblestone path to our rooftop perch before it got too dark.

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Meghan waits patiently above blue Bundi
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Forgotten Temple
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Fort wall and overgrown grounds
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Outside the Palace at Taragarh
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Looking down on Bundi

Back at the house Sema and the family along with Sema’s sister started a fire in a fire pan on the roof and cooked potato paranthas in a wok like pan over the open flame. (Parantha is a wheat flour like tortilla stuffed with yummys before cooked.) We all sat up on the roof together, the family all huddled around the fire helping out with the task at hand and Meghan and I watching on and we spent another evening enjoying the incredible food and watching the numerous monkeys climb all over the floodlit fort. I forgot to mention this but there were a lot of monkeys. In the mornings they would scamper across the rooftops to the palace were they would take to the shade in the numerous alcoves across the palace walls. At night they would come back out again and we could watch them climbing and playing all over their huge jungle gym. This was all quite entertaining and was kind of like our television for the nights we were there. Durga informed us that they were educated monkeys and would swipe your shoes or drying laundry and taunt you with your missing items until you fed them a Chapati (un stuffed wheat like tortilla)! In addition, meals taken on the roof top are served with a large stick, just is case a monkey gets too daring.

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Palace Monkeys
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Looking closely you can see them all over the Elephant gate

The next day we hired some push bikes and set out to do some exploring north of town. It was fun to get out but we did not see anything too memorable and mostly just enjoyed the more quiet countryside and bit of exercise that is missing from our current lives. Upon returning to Bundi Meghan went in for some R&R and I returned to the fort on the hill. Like the night before I entered the imposing gates and found myself alone. I would spend an hour exploring the 650 year old buildings and all their narrow passage ways, tight staircases, and empty courtyards alone. It was quite some time before a few other intrepid travelers crossed my path. I can not describe how much I enjoyed this. I was possessed with images of life in this time and as I wandered the abandoned buildings they came to life in my mind. I spent a good time up in the fort collecting long thorns in the soles of my shoes and exploring every inch of each decaying building before heading back down for our final meal with Durga and his family.

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A closer look inside the Taragarh
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Indy?
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Bundi Fort and the walls of the Taragarh above lit up at night

The next morning we would be up early and off to the “Venice of the East”, the romantic Rajasthan city of Udaipur.

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At 6:00 AM Durga was sharply dressed and ready to see us off.
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Sunrise on the Tracks, Bundi Train Station

Posted by pmunson 08:24 Archived in India Comments (1)

Who’s up for another round?

More Forts, Palaces, and Temples - Udaipur and Johdpur

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View rtw on pmunson's travel map.

Udaipur - 03/07/10 to 03/11/10

On our way to Udaipur we traveled by train again. We were able to make a pit stop in Chittor to break up the journey and spend the afternoon exploring the Chittorgarh. This was an interesting and large fort with many temples and palaces occupying a 28 square km plato that is 180 meters above the surrounding plains and completely encircled by a high fort wall. One item of interest here was the Tower of Victory. Dating back to 1468 this tower rises 37 meters high and has nine stories. Each level is carved in the same fashion as all the fine temples and on the inside an stairwell allows you to climb to the 8th floor, looking out over the entire fort. After visiting the fort we got back to the station just as the train was pulling in and rode to Udaipur with two other travelers we had met on the morning train and toured the fort with.

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Temple Art
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Victory Tower
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Meghan Makes her way up the tight stairwell
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Udaipur is a beautiful oasis in the middle of Rajasthan. Its centerpiece is a shimmering lake with two Island palaces set below surrounding mountains. Udaipur is home to a few different world class hotels including the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel and the Lake Palace Hotel. Both these hotels as well as the city of Udaipur was the set for the James Bond movie Octopussy. There was an interesting mix of tourist as the super rich were ushered into their $2000 a night suites that shared a similar view with the $6 a night room Meghan and I shared! Thrown in the mix was the obligatory City Palace, temples, and a compact old town of narrow lanes that surrounded the lake. We decided a few days off the sightseeing tour were necessary and stuck to the shaded rooftop and wonderful view out over the lake to the City Palace. Doing so we met an nice couple who were filming an amateur documentary about travel and we gave them an interview on our trip to date. On the third day in Udaipur we made it out to explore the City Palace and Museums. This was well persevered and much more lavishly appointed than the decaying forts of Bundi that we loved so much. It is the largest Palace in Rajasthan and is a mix of different buildings that slowly were added on over the years by different Maharajas. There were murals entirely made of glass mosaic and technicolor rooms with walls and ceilings of all glass and mirrors. We spent our 4th and final night on our rooftop watching Octopussy and glancing over our shoulder to look at the palace every time it came across the TV screen!

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City Palace, Udaipur
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Trim and proper. I got a hair cut and a straight razor shave at a small barbershop
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Brad and Lucy who interviewed us for their travel documentary
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City Palace
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Lake Palace and surrounding countryside
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Manak (Ruby) Mahal, City Palace
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Mosaic Peacocok in the Mor Chowk, City Palace
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More Glass Mosaics
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An incredible dining room in the City Palace being prepped for an upcoming wedding
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Lake Palace by night
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City Palace standing above the old Havelies’s of Udaipur

Heading out we decided to schedule a stop during our days travel as we did on the way in. This time it was by bus and the stop was at a temple and not a fort. We were dropped off at a Jain Temple on the route from Udaipur to Jodhpur. We were both a little templed out after all that we had visited so far in Rajasthan and were wondering if we should just skip it but we pressed on. Upon arrival we put down a 25 rupee or 50 cent lunch that was all you can eat dal (lentils) , Rajasthan curry, and puri’s (fried dough rounds) and made our way into the temple on a full stomach. Once again we were totally blown away. We were at Ranakpur, a marble Jain temple built in 1444 that consisted of 29 halls held up by 1444 carved pillars. The place was incredible and unique. Jainism is described a an extreme form of Buddhism.

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Not a centimeter of marble left un-carved, The impossibly intricate domed ceilings of Ranakpur
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Awestruck
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Ranakpur from the hillside.

We enjoyed our quick stop before heading back out to the street to wait for the bus. When the bus arrived I climbed up on top and lock our bags to the roof. When I got into the bus, or rather when I pushed my way onto the steps of bus I found it to be just as crowded as one might expect after taking several buses in India! That is that people were jammed everywhere and I was barely inside the bus! It was 4 hours to Johdpur and I started mentally preparing for the journey. After about a half hour Meghan squeezed herself into a seat as the previous occupant stood up. You need to position yourself exactly right to get into the seats or else the space will evaporate. It is almost like trying to swap a book in an already full bookshelf. If you are not inserting a new book into the space the old book is coming out of you are never going to get it in. A little while later I was able to do the same and we were on our way in high spirits to Jodhpur.

Jodhpur 03/11/10 to 03/13/10

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After staying in a cheapo rooms in the land of over the top luxury accommodation that was Udaipur we decided to up the anti a little bit and got a fabulous room for the 2 nights we were in Jodhpur. A big bay window that you could sit in offered views of the fort, we had a mini fridge, and a tub! Did I mention the fantastic rooftop restaurant with great fort views? WAHOO! Living it up! It was tough spending almost $20 a night when we knew their were rooms out there for $2 but we had been working hard and deserved it.

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Jodhpur Fort

Another Beautiful fort. India and Rajasthan has really turned into a temple, palace, and fort tour but we are enjoying it. The Fort at Johdpur had an great museum and some interesting history as well. It was a steep climb up out of town to the first of seven gates that let up more steep walkways around sharp turns to the final gate. This fort was never taken during wartime and there are welts from cannonballs in the sturdy stone walls near the first gate evidencing that the impressive fortifications where tried. Inside the museum had great displays offering a look into the lavish lifestyle of the Maharaja and a great weapons display as well.

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Cannonballs
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Yes, We took the audio tour
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Hand prints representing the widows of the Maharaja who, rather than continuing on as a widow, ended their lives by throwing themselves on the dead kings funeral pyre in 1843.
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Turbans and facial hair, favorites amongst Rajasthani men
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Tiger Howdah - Seat for carrying people on an elephants’ back
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Golden hand drawn palanquin for the king
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Sword Collection
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After the fort and palace we explored the city that was a mess of lanes in horrible condition due to an over run and often overflowing sewer system. All of the cities we have visited in India have an open sewer system in the old cities. This is for your cleaning and cooking water and the dirty water runs in open gutters that line all the streets and alleyways. In Johdpur they were increasing the capacity of the actual sewer with a larger diameter pipe and not doing the cleanest job of it all. For lunch, we sought out a Lonely Planet made legend of Johdipur. The Egg Man whips up a tasty omelet out of a small cart and serves it up between bread sandwich style . He offers a few dirty plastic stools to sit on and claims to cook up over a thousand eggs a day to fulfill the demand of his deserved reputation. The little suckers were tasty! We shared our sandwiches with passing camels, cows, pigs, eager rickshaw drivers, beggars, over friendly children, and the usual circus that is any spot in the old cities of Rajasthan!

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Egg Man
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Camel Cart Drive Through?

I could not stop singing the beastie boys “Egg Man” in my head while we ate and thought of ourselves in a flock of the “Lonely Planet” crowd while singing “suckers they come a dime a dozen, when I say dozen you know what I am talking about boyyyy!” It is funny how the guide books that we all rely on so much bring all the tourists together at spots so obscure as a roadside shack selling omelets for 50 cents. Every time you get into the tourist beat around the attractions and the popular stops, business owners advertise what guidebooks recommend them. While we are glad to have the Lonely Planet for recommendations on were to go and what to see, when we actually arrive somewhere the difference between guide book recommended hotels and restaurants is alarming. Places in the guidebooks thrive while there competition across the street struggles to get buy, often with superior quality and cheaper prices.
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Women huddled in the Shade, mid-day, Johdpur
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Street side pottery
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Step well outside our hotel window
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Clock tower with Fort in the background

The next morning it was off again to Jaisalmer, further west and on the fringes of the Thar desert. We thought we would give a private bus a go after only riding the local government busses and reserved two seats on what we thought was a direct bus. The bus itself was certainly of superior quality. It was a sleeper bus with chairs on the bottom and sleeping bunks at the top. We assumed that being a private bus the reserved seats and sleeping bunks would be occupied and they would not sell standing room tickets as they do on the public busses, in this we were wrong. With the compartments above and the chairs below and the Indian technique of packing them in tight, asking everyone to take a deep breath, and then adding a few more for good measure, the bus was packed. It is like going one notch to far on your belt, the one you know is going to hurt later. Meghan and I had unknowingly reserved two seats on the last bunk of the bus, you know the ones that have a perfectly vertical backrest and enjoy the full effect of all the bumps and bends of the road. Not on one side either, smack dab in the middle.

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Packed into the back of the bus… What was standing room only at first opened up with enough room for people to sit on the floor in the isle.

I called on my reserve patience that I have been building up to an impressive level since being in India and managed not to freak out even though I thought we would be more comfortable on the miserable government buses. Here comes the negativity again so let me cool it down with the rewards of these busses and the reason we keep inflicting the torture I have repeatedly described on ourselves. The busses give you a view into rural India that you do not see in the cities with the attractions. The people you see coming and going, sometimes so close that you carry their sweat with you to the next destination still live in the traditions of their ancestors. Sometimes seeing a woman covered head to toe in jewelry and dress that matches the displays you have seen in the museum cram into you on a bus is more memorable than the landmark temple that you read about back home. Or feeling the acceptance of unselfish people as they make themselves less comfortable to help out a stranger on a bus. It is hard to explain but after all the frustrations and discomforts in settling into a long bus ride we usually exit with some new experience or insight to the places we are passing through. So six hours later we arrived in Jaisalmer and fought our way our of a circling pack of vicious rickshaw drivers and hotel touts desperate for commissions. I am not sure if it was because we were coming of the more expensive bus or if it was just Jaisalmer but these guys were unrelenting. It was so bad that a police officer had to come to our aid just to make room for us to walk away. One guy took it to far and I had to let him know we were serious with a firm hand on the ribcage that put him on his heals as I yelled “Back Off” None of this was more dangerous than a nuisance for all you worriers out there, Robin, but non the less I had to speak up.

Posted by pmunson 00:04 Archived in India Comments (1)

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