Monday, March 24, 2008

Bhutan (Kingdom of Happiness)

In the alpine foothills of the Himalayas lies this magical kingdom. Compared to other poor Asian nations, the Bhutanese have an overall high standard of living with no begging or homelessness whatsoever. It is the cleanest country we have visited in Asia so far. People are happy and content with what they have, and statistics show that they are they are actually the “happiest country in the world”. Entering Bhutan overland was literally a breath of fresh air. As we drove over the mountain passes we looked behind us and watched the populated chaos of India fade away. Coming to Bhutan was the big spurge of the trip. You can only enter Bhutan on a tour or by being personally invited. The tour is very expensive, and I see why… the cutely decorated wooden cabin we stayed in was the best accommodation (we have paid for) on the trip so far. It couldn’t have been more perfect, having 5 days of rest after India to decompress. We both felt very at home in the pine trees and the hills. We went for a hike and saw it snow too! Very refreshing.


The little girl had a big mouthful of watermelon... priceless expression. :)


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The first few days in India were great! My dad had a business trip conveniently timed to our time in India, so we spent a week with him, which was wonderful. He brought back a good dose of reality and recharged us for the rest of the trip with the royal treatment in 5 star hotels. However, when we said goodbye I got really home sick. I haven’t really had that hard of a time being away, but seeing my dad made the distance set in. After he left and we were back to our $10/day budget standard of living, which meant local transportation and $3 rooms, rather than private cars and $400 rooms. Quite the change to say the least! haha
I think we had became so accustomed to our $3 rooms that I really didn’t realize how “ghetto” we were until we spent time away from it all with my Dad.

The real India… holy cows and holy (other stuff)!! Traveling here is 100 times harder than in every other place we have been, even more so than China, where next to no one speaks English. The 5 star hotel dropped us off at the local train station and reality hit like a freight train. We were alone. After a half hour, we found the correct line to wait in to try and buy our tickets. Indians do not know what the word line means. We were trampled, pushed out of the way, stared at, lied to (by touts trying to sell us their “special tourist tickets”), and so on. It took us 2 hours of standing in the sun and pushing our way to the front to buy our tickets. Then when trying to get to our train everyone told us something different, even told us that the tickets we bought were for the standing class only and that we would be hanging off the side of the train for hours. Finally, a really nice Indian man who spoke perfect English took pity on us and was soo helpful. It was a great contrast to the majority who just stared at us nonstop and said nothing, and of course those also who were eager to put their hands in our pockets and sell us whatever they happened to be offering.
Our tickets were for the third class hard bench seating (lowest class next to the luggage car :) Luckily, we were there early, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a seat and we would have stood for the 4-hour journey.

The next day we visited the Taj Mahal at sunrise which was really nice, like a breath of fresh air. However, the second half of that day was miserable, trying to plan the itinerary for our time in India. The only feasible way of planning travel in India is finding a decent travel agency with staff that speaks English. Otherwise you will spend an hour in a line at the train station to ask a question, they won’t understand what your trying to ask, and then just throw you out of the line. But even still, at the travel agency they will tell you the way they know how to get here and there, so in their minds no other options exist, no matter how many ways you try to slice it. It’s basically a huge complicated mess and you never really know what the heck your buying!

We asked for the 1st class train for a 24 hour journey from the East of India to the West. They said it was the “tourist train” but in India, that basically just means your not in the luggage compartment. Sometimes we have air conditioning, and other times it’s a free-for-all with about 300 people for every seat. (not really, but the picture you have in your mind of people everywhere, on the floor and out the window is correct)
So a few thoughts on India? After 5 days of nothing but frustration, and being overwhelmed to the point of tears, I was ready to just quit and fly home. That’s how fed up I was, I didn’t even want to continue traveling. Luckily it didn’t get to Blaine as much as I, so he kept things positive and was able to laugh, and continue with things.

In an effort to get out of the huge hectic Indian cities, we took a sleeper train out to the desert town of Jaisalmer and were welcomed with warm smiles, hot chai tea, and even hot water showers. :) Our percentage of horrible experiences to nice ones went up from only 2% good to 80% good.

India is a land of extremes and contrast, when things are good, it’s like blow your mind incredible, but when things are bad, you basically want to shoot yourself. I absolutely love India, but at the same time, I hate it with everything in me! It’s weird like that.

The poverty here is indescribable. It so much worse than all the countries we’ve visited so far. Imagine the worst picture of poverty you can think up, and it still won’t even touch what you will see and feel when it becomes real. Because of the masses of people in India, the poverty is inescapable and in your face 24/7. A simple stroll down an alleyway will yield sights of trash, dirt, cows, cow waste, human waste, sick people, crippled people, begging people, dogs, pigs, flies, bikes, goats, cars, rickshaws… and that is just the beginning, really!

There are so many things that don’t make any sense. The eco circle is bizarre though it does seem to work in its own strange fashion. The people throw everything away in the street- trash, waste, water, and then the ultra poor sift through the trash and eat and/or sell what they find. The dogs eat the trash that is covered in poop and you have dead dogs, cows etc. being eaten by birds and other dogs, the cows eat the trash, poop in the street and the pigs eat the cow poop. And all the while every animal drinks the sewage water running though the streets and into the river, where people bathe!
Everyone pees where they wish, whether there is a wall to shield them from the other 1.2 billion people walking around or they are facing directly into the passing traffic. We saw a child (in a very busy walking intersection with people everywhere) who was actually squatting down pooping and begging at the same time. I couldn’t help but laugh at his endeavor, surprised we actually took notice of him, he returned a smile pulled up his paints and chased our rickshaw with his hand out.
It’s quite crazy, but, it actually seems to work… only in India!

Otherwise… the colors are amazing, the people are beautiful, and overall India is a very inspiring place in so many ways, especially for photography! India is like its own planet and it’s nothing like the rest of Asia. I will stop rambling now because it’s a place you really have to experience for yourself!

Now for lots of photos! :)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thailand part 2

Blaine and I spent some time bumming around the islands in the south of Thailand. It was really great to hangout with our friends the Katzs. It brought us both home a little bit and enabled us to relax and prepare ourselves for the next section of our trip (India!). I didn’t really shoot very much, but here are a couple shots I took trying to make use of our underwater housing (that we lugged all over Asia and never really used) Also, one of our lenses is broken so some of the colors are a bit weird.

We've been in India now for almost 2 weeks, and it's been crazy, but great! I'll post later.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Myanmar (Burma)

We have been taking a “vacation” from our travels (traveling isn’t all that easy!) in the south of Thailand so I have a lot of catching up to do! Since the last post we’ve been in Myanmar and are now currently in India.

For starters, our experience in Myanmar was nothing short of amazing and left a deep impression on us both. Some of the things I’ve seen have changed the way I look at the modern world and how I feel about government in general. The Myanmar people are the most gentle, honest, simple, happy, hard working, unfortunate yet content people I have seen in Asia. They never complain about anything even if they have to ride on the roof of the local transport and pay the same as those with seats. Myanmar is so isolated from the outside world, being here is like going back in time. They still use the telegraph, and the government only lets most places have power at certain times of the day. I have been so overwhelmed with compassion for these people and am clueless on how to process are our short time with them.

I wrote a lot more about my impressions of the Myanmar government, and how it affects the people... but I thought it would be better not to post it... so here are some of the photos.