So today is scary. We are leaving the comfort of Cowboy Sam and are on our own- with handlers- to get to our next stop. We will be on a train for 2.5 hours and then do a short tour, then on to a private car for 4 hours. When I say this is out of all of our comfort zones- I am not correctly expressing the extent of my nervousness. Now I have curry belly and a nervous stomach. Excellent.

Our drive to the train arrives- Sam says it’s about a 20 minute drive through packed streets- and we see that they’ve brought a knife to a gun fight. A small 5 passenger vehicle- and we have luggage for 10. So- after they put what they can in the back- they place the rest on the roof. Just so happens it’s all my luggage that gets elected for the roof ride. And the luggage will not be strapped down. At all. Even Sam questions this- asking the driver if he will be strapping the luggage. No. Head bob. Sam looks at us and says- you’ll be fine. I get out all my money and offer to put cowboy sams kids through college if he will come with us- and he declines- he has no intention of being around when that luggage falls off and explodes panties and rum all over the Indian roadway. I Consider making Chris roof surf teen wolf style- but he says I’m over thinking it- so off we go, me completely turned around in the back seat watching for the rain of bags.

We get to the station and to my surprise all the luggage is still on the roof- however I don’t know how I go about getting a refund for the years I just lost off my life. The station is just as busy as you would imagine- seeming like people come here and sleep on the station platforms days in advance. For 100 INR (about $2 CAD) we secure a porter who hoists and balances my two 50 + lb suitcases on his head (why do mine always have to go on the roof??) and then wheels Nicole and gary’s 2 50lb bags. Absolutely insane while perfectly balancing mine.

We are about 40 mins early for our train- so our sweet handler waits with us, watching our bags like a hawk- even though we don’t feel like we need to be concerned.

The train arrived and it is mass hysteria- but we have assigned seats and a nice table in front of us. Our bags are loaded by the same man we paid the 100 rupees to- and off we go. Leaving approximately 14 seconds after arriving at the station. Thank goodness we had help. This is a high speed train- and we are off -quickly getting up to speed. I take out my laptop and begin blogging and Chris starts making friends. The table we are seated at is full of British tourists- and Chris quickly gets to work finding out their names, jobs and hopes and dreams for the future- while I interject here and there- mostly focusing on my blog.  I look over and see Nicole and gary talking to their table partner too- India is changing my sister- who normally would possum the minute she saw they were sitting with someone- but she is smiles and laughs-sharing her travel experience with a total stranger- travel family now.

About 1 hour in as Chris is talking to his new best friend- British dude- a 2-3 year old Kid plants himself in the aisle way and starts staring at Chris. Like he’s a real life cartoon character- for about 10 minutes.

The British get off a stop ahead of us, Chris crying and promising to write- and we are left alone- the only westerners on board- to figure out when to get off and how to get off this train. I call over our waiter who’s been serving us drinks and breakfast and tell him that I have 100 rupees for him if he makes sure we get off the train at the right stop, and that all our luggage comes with us. Dollarsigns in his eyes he says no problem- and I know we’ll be okay- I mean I’m still panicking like a roll of toilet paper at a curry convention, but I think I look in control on the outside.

However it happens, somehow we end up at the correct stop, with all our luggage and limbs off the train. And

For some reason our point of contact was able to pick us out right away- go figure? And brings us to our car for the next leg of the journey. This time the luggage is all inside with us and cold waters are handed out as we meet Sheesh- our driver for the day. He’s a sweetie and is excited when we pull out chocolate and offer him some. Smiling and looking like he just won the white peoples lottery. She bobs his head and says “Canadians” with a smile.

We take a 1/2 hr drive first to a Temple to shiva-in Orcha- it’s very beautiful and comes up out of no where in the small town.  (Keeping in mind by small town our driver tells us that ONLY 20,000 people live here…..um….)We meet our guide and have a tour of the facility- another of emperor Akbars homes.

This guide explains more of the Hindu faith to us. Explaining how important the number 9 is to the people- 9 holes in the body- etc- and how they translate the number 9 all over their temples. For example there are exactly 108 elephants on each wall of this temple. 1+0+8 being 9. Nine spires. 9 entrances and 9 exits.  Further, when people die here, the most pure thing they can do is go to Veransi, a holy city along the Ganges, and have their dead body dipped in the water and burned at its banks. However, that city is a couple of days journey from here- and with a dead body it would be pretty impossible. So instead, it is acceptable to take 8 pieces bone from the different areas of the body- burn the rest, and put those bones in a clay vessel, cover it with cows milk, plus some of the burned ash from the cremation- (making 9 pieces) and carry it to Veransi to be poured into the Ganges.  We visit Veransi tomorrow and I love getting the story first.

Then our guide explains that Orcha – the name of this town- means fetch in the old language. This temple was built by Raja Madhukar Shah during his reign, 1554 to 1591- and the town of Orcha was a gift to him from Emperor Akbar- but he couldn’t think of a name (because each time a city is captured -or in this case given away-it is given a new name).  He consulted a holy man for help picking one out, and the guru told him to come to a specific part of the city the following morning and that the first words out of his mouth should be the name.  So he came to that part of the city, but the guru wasn’t there. But his dogs had followed him- and he began to throw sticks and play with them, yelling “Fetch!” Or Orcha. Then realized that these were his first words for the day. Thus the city’s name.  If gary named it it would be “herepusspusspusspuss”, Just doesn’t have the same ring to it eh?

We explore the palace and climb up and down its many stairs and passages, snapping pictures of elephant carvings in the marble.

From here we drive another 2.5 hours to Khajuraho. The drive is HAIRY. Driving on the wrong side of the road is bad enough, but throw in goats, cows, motorcycles coming from every direction, big motor coach busses and LOTS of construction along the road, and it is downright terrifying. Nicole asks if I slept at all during the drive…yeah. Like like a baby. In the middle of being born.

To break the drive up-and personally I think just to give the driver a break- we Stop at a resting area and canteen, Thinking we can use the bathroom and maybe get a cold drink.  However, Nicole and I both go in the washroom, Nicole running ahead dancing, and me coming in shortly  after.  I walk to my bathroom stall- the one at the end of the room with the window and window sill- and near pee all over myself when I am getting settled and look up from where I am sitting- and see it- a Snake. I scream the scream of a woman about to be skinned alive- and I forget about my pee- dancing out of the bathroom. I get ready to knock on Nicole’s door and tell her to get out, but there she already stands- pants basically around her ankles, flailing out of her stall on the off chance I’m screaming about a snake.  We run out and keep running. All the way back to the car- deciding peeing ourselves in India is better then dying here.

We drive further and continue to need to pee and not sleep.  People Watching and trying to compare what we are seeing against our own reality- but I can’t get in that head space. This is my new reality now. Waiting for cows to cross the road, honking a horn instead of using a signal light. Passing a motorcycle with 2 adults having 3 children sandwiched between them when there is a buss coming straight for us. This is my new normal- and comparing it to my 35 minute commute to work is like trying to compare a squirrel…. to a chipmunk who is tap dancing while doing origami and balancing 10 cups and saucers in its paw all while climbing a tree- all the while suffering from travelers diarrhea. Similar only in type of animal- but so different in action and circumstance that it is impossible to even imagine the sight unless you’ve experienced it. (I’m speaking of the chipmunk AND the travelers diarrhea….)

And first when I got here I thought that I was seeing poverty constantly. But I realize now that this is just how these people live- the family home isn’t necessarily roofless because they are poor, it could be because they lost the roof two monsoon seasons ago and they are on the painfully long list to have workers fix it-able to pay- but without proper natural or human resources to do so. Or the home has a cow in it- but this isn’t because of poverty- this is the norm- cows being sacred here. They eat with their hands out of what we consider dirty dishes- because how do you get dishes clean in dirty water which is all that the town water system has- and eating with their hands is religious- not for the reasons I had thought. I, like I’m sure most of you, have always been told that East Indians eat with their right hand because the left is reserved for bathroom duties…. SO not true. They eat with their right because they believe that if they do – this will aid them in digestion. The practice of eating with the hands originated within Their religious teachings. The Hindu people believed that our bodies are in sync with the elements of nature and our hands hold a certain power. They teach that each finger is an extension of one of the five elements:

  • Through the thumb comes space
  • Through the forefinger comes air
  • Through the mid-finger comes fire
  • Through the ring finger comes water
  • Through the pinky finger comes earth

When you eat with your hands, you are supposed to do so by joining all fingers together. This is believed to improve our consciousness of the taste of the food we eat. Not only are you feeding your body but also your mind and spirit. When you touch your food with your hands, you’re creating a physical and spiritual connection with it. You’re also much more present in the moment. When food is touched with the hands, there’s automatically more careful attention placed on it – what the temperature is, how much you can carry, how the hand must be held in order to keep the food in it.

We have been taught this by every one of our tour guides – this action has nothing to do with uncleanness or poverty.

So the only time I’ve seen painful poverty is with the homeless.  And I dare you to go to any city and not see this. Is it dirty here? Yes. Garbage is everywhere, usually being picked through by a goat or cow. But again, this is just the way they live and have lived for centuries. I don’t like it…but it doesn’t speak to the people here- it doesn’t mean they are lazy or poor. Other then the homeless it is hard to tell someone’s status financially here. I’m sure if I lived here I could- but as an outsider I can’t just based on their look or attire.

After so much driving we finally arrive at our hotel for the night- and the as soon as I see it I’m sad it’s only one night. How. Beautiful.  It is very much in the jungle- and the teak wood and sand stone facade makes us Feel like British royals. We had arranged an upgrade for this hotel in advance- and we’re given the royal suites- one at each side of the entrance. Old fashioned locking systems and a double door entrance with a small second bathroom make it feel even more like the India from Rudyard Kipling’s jungle book. And I expect to see Shere Khan around any corner.  The bathroom is truly a treat with a huge corner jacuzzi tub and entire half bathroom shower that rains down from the impossibly high ceiling.

After we squeal about our room, it’s drop the bags and get this swollen hippo the the pool time. We walk out to a large back yard and pool- all to ourselves.  There is a sweet gentleman keeping the pool yard clean, and we Ask for 4 beers to be delivered and give him 20 rupees when he brings them (40 cents) feeling bad it’s all the cash we brought from the room- and he goes into action. He runs around cleaning the deck and providing chairs for us and for our bags. He brings us towels and keeps the beer coming. We realize that this 20 rupees was very precious to him- and we run to the room and gift him more. A few hundred. And he takes it – astonished. I watch as he brings it over to the main building and shows it to the boss man, who squeezes his shoulder and motions that he can keep it. He bows and thanks him over and over. I can’t stop tearing up. He is thankful and sweet and makes sure we are very well taken care of- excitedly turning on the pool lights as soon as it is dusk, proudly showing us the magic of the light dancing off the waterfall.

We stay at the pool until late. Listening for the tiger reserve about 20 kms away that we are told we MAY hear tigers from at night.  Finally we go to the restaurant where they spoil us even further- again the only people in the entire dining room.

Home to enjoy that bathtub and sleep in this jungle.

Tomorrow we leave for Veransi- a flight in the afternoon. We have our rooms until 2:30 pm- so we will get to enjoy the pool again before we leave. I hear tigers all night- or Chris snoring- don’t burst my bubble. It’s a magical night.