Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

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Brent’s big book of Indian Aminals (Part 3): domestic pets

July 11, 2010

I’m home!!!

I’ve finally returned to Edmonton after a hectic few months living out of a suitcase. Since April, I’ve graduated, moved out of Vancouver before visiting London and India. After that, I spent a few weeks in Toronto, capped off with a trip to Boston.

Good to sit still, at last.

Here’s another installment in my collection of Indian animalia (pretty self-explanatory):

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Brent’s big book of Indian Aminals (Part 2): Winged rodents, a pachyderm, and an ungulate

June 15, 2010

Here is part 2 of 3 of my collection of animals photos from India (in order of North to South):

The beautiful winged rodent flying over the Amber Fort

Elephant rides near Jaipur: $20

Sunset in Kerala with the other, smarter winged rodent

Night in Kanyakumari: by the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal

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Brent’s big book of Indian Aminals (Part 1): Nine monkeys + goat on a wall

June 13, 2010

Instead of exposing you to an endless supply of boring pictures of me, here’s a few aminals from my trip:

Exhibit A on the importance of keeping your car window closed.

Relaxin’ on the road to Gangtok.

Ever seen a goat on a wall before? Didn't think so.

Don't knock it until you try it

After taking this shot in old Jaipur, I actually saw a Discovery Channel documentary about these monkeys. Really.

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Ten lessons I learned in India (pt 2)

June 6, 2010

Back by popular demand (okay, little to none): more lessons I learned in India.

LESSON 6 – DEATH IS INEVITABLE: When people ask what was most memorable, I offer an answer and a little advice: Before stepping in a car, make peace with your Maker. As we left the Delhi airport, a sign read, “LANE DRIVING IS SANE DRIVING.” Let’s just say sane driving (or shoulder checking) has yet to catch on.

Within the confines of our various automobiles and auto-rickshaws, we witnessed accidents, had a few close calls, dents, and scrapes of our own, and even experienced a rush hour cattle crossing in the middle of Delhi (the world’s eight largest metropolis). A saving grace was that congestion means vehicles rarely travel over 60 km/hr for more than a few kilometres.

It is true, however, that drivers in India tend to pay more attention. And they’re better for it.

LESSON 7 – PUFFED WHEAT COFFEE: If you know me, you may well be aware that I am something of a coffee fan. You may not know, however, that I am also deeply passionate about those puffed wheat squares (here’s somebody’s blog post with a great pic AND a delicious-looking recipe). I have never connected these two passions — until I went to India and grabbed a cup of java. I am now coo coo for cocoa puff coffee (okay, not really).

LESSON 8 – SYMBOLS MEAN DIFFERENT THINGS IN DIFFERENT PLACES: Swastikas, hammers, and sickles abound in India. Note anything extremely unusual (to western eyes) in this image from Jew Street in Cochi, less than a hundred yards from a 450-year-old synagogue?

Unlike swastikas, hammers and sickles are not venerable religious symbols dating back thousands of years. Like swastikas, however, they are bountiful in India. The hammer and sickle has proliferated in India alongside communist and Maoist parties throughout the country. The Kerala government is Marxist, for instance. Ergo hammers and sickles and portraits of Stalin in the vegetable markets.

LESSON 9 – YES, TATA MAKES THAT: In early 2009, there was quite the hubbub for the commercial launch of the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car (approximately $2500 CDN). Reports everywhere said the Nano was a game changer. Mother Nature would have to take another one for the team as every man, woman, and child in India would take to the road in cramped style.

Amazingly, I actually saw more camels than Nanos on the road, which might have something to do with the Nano’s reputation for spontaneous combustion.

Go to India, and you will discover that despite owning the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, Tata is much more than the Indian equivalent of Ford. Tata manufactures trucks, buses, and cars (no camels yet), but also compact umbrellas and energy drinks. Have a cellphone? Tata’s a carrier. Drink tea? Try Tata’s blend (guess who own Tetley?).

Tata owns all. This I learned.

LESSON 10 – CLOVE-FLAVOURED TOOTHPASTE: is not as bad as it sounds. Trust me on this. But for Pete’s sake, please skip Crest Cumin.

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Ten lessons I learned in India (Pt 1)

May 30, 2010

I just got back from India and am ready to head to downtown Toronto on Monday to start an internship with CBC radio.

As I sort through the photos and mentally process the trip, I thought I might share some of the lessons gleamed from my experiences.

LESSON 1 – BE CO-OPERATE:

Engrish.com is one of my favourite websites. It features the hilarious and often profane spelling mistakes found in public displays of the English language (mostly in China). In India, where English is one of 2 official languages (22 others have official status in different states), the mistakes are rarely as hilarious, but they are plentiful. I would guess that about half of all signs, posters, and marquees contain at least one gaffe. Spell check, it seems, is a luxuary.

LESSON 2 – PUBLIC TOILETS VARY IN QUALITY: Often they’re just a hole, a tap, and a bucket. Side note: Bring your own TP. Second side note: Men, fear not, the entire country is your urinal (confirmed sightings of public micturition – 47).

LESSON 3 – WHITE = MINOR CELEBRITY STATUS: I’ve traveled a bit over the years and have occasionally noticed people staring or smiling at me. A tourist is often something of a strangely dressed novelty, but in India, people would shake my hand at random, little kids would say, “Hi uncle! What’s your name?,” and complete strangers would approach me to pose in their snapshots (being extremely photogenic, I happily obliged).

LESSON 4 – TRADEMARK, SHMADEMARK:

I don’t know if anyone has informed the Disney corporation’s dark legion of litigators, but the likeness of Mickey Mouse is found everywhere in India (including toys, fireworks, and walls of domestic airports). I was tempted by a pair of genuine “Versage” boots, official government stores sold counterfeit cologne, and I longed for some of the Lt. Col’s GFC (8 secret spices).

LESSON 5 – A HOTEL IS NOT A HOTEL (EXCEPT WHEN IT IS): Some of the most baffling signage in India comes courtesy of the astronomical number of hotels – the majority of which are restaurants with nary a bed or bellhop to be found. A fellow traveler who grew up there said the reason for “hotel” (pronounced ‘hot-el’ rather than ‘ho-tell’) is that it’s easier to spell than restaurant. Plus it sounds luxuarious.

Here’s a tip for telling the difference: Your local Holiday Inn or Ramada rarely specifies vegetarian or non vegetarian.

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Assorted Himalayan critters

May 24, 2010

My previous post mentioned taking photos of red pandas. It must also be mentioned that the animals were not in the wild, but exclusively at the Himalayan zoological park (which we had pretty much to ourselves that day).

Here are a few pics (snow leopard, red pandas, leech):

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A passage to Gangtok: sights and smells

May 23, 2010

Gangtok stymies all expectations of India: majestic heights, moderate temperatures, and small crowds.

The city of approximately 30,000 is the capital of Sikkim, the country’s least populated state, nestled in the Himalayas between Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. Gangtok lies in the shadow of snow-capped Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest summit. The surrounding hills are home to wildlife, elaborate monasteries (and ubiquitous prayer flags) and some of the sharpest hairpin turns you’ll ever see. It’s beautiful.

To reach Gangtok, you must first land in Bagdogra, West Bengal, and skirt a succession of harrowing turns for three-and-a-half hours (don’t fret, roadside monkeys are there to cheer you on). Upon entering Sikkim, a visitor’s permit must be procured. It’s a mere formality, but it admittedly feels a little strange to get a passport stamp within the same country.

Our trip was one of highs and, well, highs. We visited countless monasteries and temples, snapped photos of saffron-robed monks and red pandas, witnessed the filming of a Bengali movie, and enjoyed a rare and affordable cappuccino along Gangtok’s main pedestrian stroll (like virtually every other place, a Mahatma Gandhi marg or road).

There were other interesting moments: one of my co-travelers was nearly bitten by an angry roadside monkey who apparently had a strict “no flash photography” policy, and another wound up with a couple of leeches on her ankle. Bloodsuckers, it seems, are found in moist grasses everywhere. Taking off my shoes, I discovered a big fat leech. I was spared only by my choice of socks that day (thank you, Kodiak!!).

But the most memorable part of the trip came the day before we were scheduled to leave Gangtok. An impending road block for some political reason or other meant we had to rush out early. We hastily booked a hotel near the Bagdogra airport, in the city of Siliguri. Ominously, the hotel name was a mispelling of a Greek god.

We arrived late at night. The smell when I opened our “Super Delux” room nearly knocked me flat. It was a fragrance most foul and sharp, like someone had fermented potpourri and doused the room like a moon-faced teenager in so much Axe spray. My spouse thought the stink emanated from newly laminated wood-paneled walls and floors. We blasted our fans and A/C to relieve some of the pressure, but no luck. Worse, it was too late to do anything about it.

Throughout the night, the stench would periodically wake me up. I dreamed uneasy dreams and slept fitfully.

In the morning, still grumbling and without my regular coffee to temper my ill feelings, I investigated the room and found about 20 of these little white devils (right) lodged in every cupboard, shelf, and nook. What percentage was deodorant, napthalene, camphor, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, or some other heinous concoction, I did not know. I only knew I had uncovered the source of the odour (alas, too late).

MOTHBALLS!!!!