Saturday, September 30, 2006

In love wih India

I am in love.
Truly and completely head over heels in love with India.
The people, the cities, the trains, the streets, the food and even the noise, the poverty, the dirt and the crowds....I am in love with every part of India. My heart feels like it is overflowing and it is an amazing feeling!!

For those of you who have been here, I am sure you are nodding to yourself (saying yes, yes...we told her...) and for those of you who have yet to experience India's soul - you can try to imagine, and then you must multiply that imagination by a million. In two words : 'life alterting' or perhaps 'karmic intervention' is a better pair. But you get the idea.

I spent my last day in Delhi touring around the city and visiting the infamous Red Fort, India gate and spend the afternoon drinking Chai in a market cafe. It was incredible.
The next morning I woke up early to catch a train to Amritsar. My train was scheduled to depart at 6:50 am and being that I have had a cold for the past week I had popped a few cold tablets just before leaving my hotel. Maybe not the best of ideas - since when I arrived at the train station I was feeling a little disoriented and managed to get on a train leaving for Calcutta, rather then Amritsar. As karma would have it, I quickly realized as the train departed the station, jumped off at the first stop and caught a rickshaw back to New Delhi Station. I thought I had missed my train since it was only a few minutes before 7:00am. Luckily, my actual train ended up being well over an hour late and I made it to Amristar as planned.
The trains here are something else. Loud, crowded and full of energy - there is never a dull moment. Between watching the antics of the Indian family I shared my seat with and the vendors who constantly go up and down the aisle selling everything ("Chai! chai ! chai!!! toothbrush? or bananas?) I was very entertained for my 9 hour journey between Delhi and Amristsar.
When I arrived into Amritsar I decided to catch a free bus to the Golden Temple. This temple is the ultimate place of worship for the Sikh religion. With over 30000 pilgrims visiting each day, it truly is on the same level as Mecca.
The free bus was perhaps the most crowded bus I have ever been on - arms and legs out the window and people packed in tighter then was an experience. Luckily it isn't a far drive between the train station and the temple.
The Golden Temple is open to all people of all faiths and they have several large dormitories that can hold the thousands of visitors each day. They have a free dormitory especially for foreigners (donations arwe greatly accepted) and a kitchen that serves up some delicious (and also free) lentil soup, dahl and chapatis for anyone who wishes to eat there...yummy!
The temple itself is perhaps the most incredible place I have visited in my life. It is covered in 750kg of gold and is set amid a large pool. The complex also has several other buildings including one that holds a museum dedicated to the Sikhs struggle for independence against the Indian government. All day there are 4 Sikh Guru's who chant the words of the Sikh holy text and it is accompanied by music - this is piped throughout the complex on speakers and adds to the incredible spiritual vibe of the temple.
Each morning at 4:30am there is a special ceremony where the holy text is carried from one of the buildings into the Golden Temple. The same ceremony is repeated each night - and both times of the day it is equally special.
I managed to wake up each morning to watch the ceremony and the sunrise over the temple.
The Sikh religion is truly one of peace and harmony. The people are very welcoming and to some extend a little too over-excited to see foreigners paying respect to their culture (I think I have been captured on no less then 400 home videos and cameras - sometimes posing with entire families....very amusing).
Also in Amristar, there are several markets selling everything from Saris and Punjabi dresses to handmade crafts and silver bangles (at 5 rupees each - quite a bargain!!).
I also visited a famous garden, Jallianwala Bagh, which commemorates 2000 Indians who were killed or wounded in 1919 when the British authorities opened fire on a peaceful demonstration. It is very sad but very important part of the Sikhs recent history.
One other interesting note: The Golden Temple was actually occupied by militant sikh radicals (who were demanding a separate Sikh state) during 1980's who were violently removed from the temple by order from Indira Gandhi. This event (among others) led to the assassination of Indirha Gandhi in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards.
My last night in Amritsar, I caught a taxi to the Indian/Pakistan border to watch the closing of the border ceremony which happens each evening. It was a lively, surprisingly fun event that is intended to symbolize the peace between the two countries.
Yesterday I caught a bus north to Dharmsala and Mcleod Ganj - home of the Dalhi Lama. It is set in the foothills of the Himalayas and is so far removed from anything else I have seen in India. The streets are clean, less crowded and the air is cool and fresh.
I will be here for the next 2 weeks - starting tomorrow I will be practicing Vipassana meditation for 10 days. This involves not speaking for the entire 10 days and meditating almost entirely throughout the day. I expect it to be difficult but very rewarding.
After I finish my course I will have 4 days left to tour around the town and hopefully do a little day-trekking.
I will not have access to email or anything from the outside world until after October 12ths, so please understand if I don't reply to emails.
I have also updated my photos - but it is taking a long time, so not all of my photos are here - but I think there will be plenty for you to get the idea.
Anyways, it has been amazing first week in India and I am trying to savor every moment I have here - and I am already planning my return.
I will blog again in a few weeks.
Love Colleen

Monday, September 25, 2006

Incredible India

Before I arrived in India, I thought I knew what to expect. People told me...many people told me...that it is chaotic and confusing and amazing all at the same time. I thought I understood - but I didn't. Now I understand exactly what they meant...and I find myself struggling to come up with the right words to describe exactly what I am feeling and experiencing.
Perhaps the right word is awe, or maybe it is wonder or maybe it is just shock.
Whatever the word it is very good but also very overwhelming.
I arrived last night from Bangkok and made my way to the Main Bazaar. Although I had been a bit worried since my flight arrived late at night and I have heard that Delhi airport is notoriously 'difficult' - especially for solo woman travelers - at night. But my fears were laid to rest with the helpfulness of a kind man I met on my flight into Delhi. He helped me book a prepaid taxi and assured me of the system's funny business and no bamboozling (I've been waiting to use that word).
The first thought I had when I exited the airport was - Wow!! I have never seen so many people! It was incredible and I have to admit a little daunting at first.
I quickly found my cab and we were off !!
In the first 24 hours the one constant here in Delhi seems to be that everything (well almost everything) is old. It is amazing! The cars, the buildings, the computers...old and dirty!
I can't even begin to describe you what my room looks like - but I promise there will be photos soon.
Today I woke up early and made my way to a rooftop restaurant for some delicious breakfast, then off to New Delhi train station to book some train tickets.
I was given some good advice from a German couple I met while on Ko Chang - they said "Book your tickets in Delhi and try to book as far in advance as you can".
The Delhi train station (as do many of the large stations in India) has a special section for foreigners to book train tickets. It is very easy and the people that work there helped me book out the trains for the next month of my trip. I plan to travel to Amritsar on September 27th, then I will take a bus to Dharmsala for my Vipassana course, then I will travel on October 16t to Varanassi, October 21st to Calcutta and then October 24th to Chennai in the south.
After the chaos of the train station I decided to catch an auto rickshaw to Jamu Masjid, a Muslim Mosque in Old Delhi. It was beautiful and had excellent views of the old city.
In order to get back to the Main Bazaar I decided to take a bike rickshaw...which was definitely an experience I will never forget, although will likely repeat. The guy pulled me through crazy traffic, weaving in and out as if it was nothing. Truly amazing!
I have come down with a cold my last few hours in Bangkok and wasn't feeling so great after my morning's adventure - so I took some much needed medicine (even better then Korean standards...and by 'better' I mean 'stronger' ) and then a very long nap for the entire afternoon.
I am feeling better tonight and plan to grab something to eat at a local cafe and then walk around the Bazaar for a few hours before bed. Tomorrow morning I am going to get up to be at the Red Fort for sunrise ...Then who knows....
I will see where the streets (and the rickshaw drivers) take me.
The one thing that I do know, is that I have given up all my expectations and perceived ideas of India. It is truly nothing I ever imagined and I can't wait to see what it has in store for me!!
I will blog again soon

On an aside: I didn't get my camera seems that I would have to leave my camera in Delhi for a few weeks - and I can't get back to pick it up until the end of November. So I am going to wait until I get to Canada (or back to Korea) to get it fixed.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

India Bound

Well it has been an incredible month!!
Thailand is fabulous (although you know that already) and I have had a chance to completely chill out - which was more then necessary.
Tomorrow I take my flight to Delhi to begin the 'real' traveling part of my trip. I don't think there will be too much time for 'chilling out but I am definitely ready!
As I mentioned before,I returned to Bangkok earlier then expected to see if I could get my camera repaired.
It wasn't as simple as I thought...Although these things never are.
After running around Bangkok to no less then 4 different repair shops in 4 different areas of the city, I finally found one that could fix my camera - BUT it turns out that repairing my camera may take up to a week or two. Since I don't have the time here in Thailand I will wait until I get to Delhi to see about repairing it again. However, in the meantime I have purchased a new camera - a Fuji FinePix . It is small and cute and it takes quite good photos - So YES!! There are some new photos on my website.
As luck would have it - even though I have made it through Thailand feeling healthier then I have in a long time- I have had a string of small accidents this week in which I managed to break my toe, scrape my knee and now burn my leg (on the side of a motorbike...OUCH!). But seriously, they are not very bad Mom please don't worry :)
Today, being my last day in Bangkok, I visited the Grand Palace and saw the Emerald Buddha. All very beautiful ( as you can see from the photos) and even though it was packed with tourists , it made for a nice morning.
Anyways, I have some packing and sorting to do tonight before I fly off to India - I have realized that I have packed far too much and need to either store some things in Delhi or ship them back to Korea.
The next entry will be from Delhi so stay tuned. Also I am adding a new link for photos to separate those from Thailand and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Safe and sound amid the chaos

Just an FYI for family and friends whom have been emailing me with their concerns for my safety....

I am fine -

I actually just heard about all the stuff that's been going on here in Thailand over the last few weeks (2 weeks on Ko Chang was pretty isolating - my last 4 days have been spent at a resort where there was only electricity for 4 hours / I was a bit out of touch with the rest of the world).

Anyways, in the last 3 weeks there have been over 20 bombings (maybe a lot more I'm not sure ) but all of them have been down in the far south - very VERY far away from me...also last night the tanks rolled into Bangkok and surrounded the main government offices and the palace. They have officially ousted the government in a military coup.
From what I have read (and it isn't that much) the government was pretty corrupt and this may be a way to bring peace...but I don't know.

But as I said, I am just finding out details today (as I was crossing to the mainland on the ferry this morning another Canadian told me the details) . I am now in a small city called Trat (about 6 hours east of Bangkok). The government has declared a state of emergency and today has been declared a national holiday so that the government and state can get some grip on what has just happened. So I am not going too far today.

But ...I need to get back to Bangkok tomorrow - my camera broke about a week ago (yep..NO more photos) and I need to try to get it fixed . I have been told the streets are safe in Bangkok. There are plenty of tourists and I will be staying in the popular tourist areas.
I have been told there has been no violence (as of this morning) but there is a huge protest organized for today that may change - BUT I will stay away from it all - so don't fret.

My flight to India is on Sunday...I have lots to do before then ...which is also why I need to get back to the city.

Before I forget....yes, yes ...Ko Chang was amazing...I spent the last few days in a beautiful area along the southern tip on the island...very very remote. It was amazing. I am very sad that my camera broke the day I arrived there - so I can't show you how beautiful it was. I guess if you had to try to imagine ...think of paradise ...and then triple it have the idea.

Anyways, I will definitely email and update my blog once more before I leave.

I love you

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Longing for Long beach

After a week of relaxation and fun, I am feeling the need to step it up a notch or two (and by 'it' I am referring to the relaxo-meter). So tomorrow I am heading south to a smaller beach (called Long Beach) where I plan to spend the next 6 days. Apparently this beach is one of the last secluded beaches on the island of Ko Chang and will likely not be around for very much longer.
The photos look incredible - crystal clear blue water, mangroves and white sand beaches....go on...say it with me....'ahhhhh'.
I think it will be the perfect spot to organize my thoughts for India.
Although it will be my first time travelling to India I have no doubt it will be amazing, but very difficult - everything I am wanting and needing.
I doubt I will have internet access while I am at Long Beach for the next week or so, but I will blog again once I get to Bangkok on the 23rd.
I have added a few more photos of some friends I have met here and a few more sunset, beach photos for you to enjoy.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Happy Days, Happy Nights

I have finally uploaded some new photos ...truthfully, I haven't been doing too much except swimming, enjoying the ever so popular "happy shake" and watching sunsets each day - but these photos will give you an idea of how beautiful it is here.
Last night on the beach near my hut there was a fire show - which was amazing to see (check out the photos) and then some dancing and good fun until the wee hours of the morning. The last few weeks have been pretty low key - although there is plenty of drinking going on, I have been avoiding the crowds and finding myself going to sleep early in the evening - so last night's party was definately worth the loss of sleep.

It looks like I will be here until the 23rd and then I will head back to Bangkok for my flight to India the next day. Ko Chang is amazing and I am definately not ready to leave.

Not sure what the next week and a half hold - I am thinking of doing some snorkelling and maybe getting a bamboo tattoo (not for sure yet - it looks like it will hurt, but perhaps it is a right of passage for Thailand...non?)

Anyways, will keep you up to date with my adventures.

Love me

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Everything is beachy!!

I arrived in Ko Chang late yesterday afternoon. It took almost 23 hours for my entire journey from Chiang Mai. The bus I took left Chiang Mai at almost 6:30pm and although it was called a VIP bus, there was nothing VIP about it. The airconditioning didn't work most of the 12 hours to Bangkok...normally I wouldn't care, except this bus was designed so the windows couldn't open. With over 80 people crammed onto the bus - all of whom seemed like they were 19 and on spring break (you get the idea) things started to get a little hot and annoying. To the defense of our bus driver, who stopped several times in vain to attempt to find a mechanic, he tried his best. Eventually they found someone around 3:30am to fix the bus and we were off again. I managed to sleep a little and awoke in Bangkok. It was almost 7am at this point and the city was already wide awake and steamy with pollution. It only made me feel more desperate to get out as quickly as possible.
My next bus was scheduled to depart at 8am , but as things go - it didn't leave Bangkok till well after 10am. Thankfully this bus was loaded down with rich Thai's heading to Ko Chang for vacation and the air conditioner worked very well and the rest of my journey was less eventful.
I arrived onto the island and made my way to a small beach at the southern part of the west coast. The beach is called Lonely Beach, but is far from lonely. However, it is less touristy and after just one day it feels like Paradise!!
I am staying at a funky guesthouse called The Treehouse which has bamboo huts located right on the beach. My bamboo hut is about as close as you can get - it is actually on stilts hanging just at the waters edge during low tide and above the water in high tide. Amazing and very cheap!!
The huts are simple, and the showers consists of basins of water that you pour over yourself but I am not is rustic in the way that makes me giggle inside (this morning I showered with a tree frog and I liked it).
There is an amazing restaurant that is built on stilts over the water and has amazing views at sunset (as does my own hut). The food is pretty cheap and very very tasty - I had my first Greek Salad in 2 years ...yummy feta!
Today I took a little walk around and then found a small sandy beach just to the right of my guesthouse. There I remained for just over 6 hours; reading, sleeping , swimming in the ocean and getting far too much sun - but it was great!
I have just over 2 weeks left in Thailand and I think (as of right now) I am going to stay on Ko Chang for the entire 2 weeks. It is exactly what I want right now.
Anyways, I have tried to upload some photos -but it is taking forever - so it will have to wait.
Love you all and miss you

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A piece of Pai, some street food and even a few sleepy tigers

Last week I made the long winding drive up and over some mountains to a beautiful little place called Pai. It isn't more then a small speck on the map - but is the closest thing to perfect that I have seen in my life. Literally like pages out of a brochure for heaven. The mountains are huge and covered in thick green jungle, the waterfalls are bursting with fresh water (there are 3 waterfalls in Pai) and the people are a very laid-back, easy going type that are likely to give you their shirt off their back if you gave the slightest mention that you were cold. Truly a great place. So for 3 days I soaked in everything - lounging in hammocks and riding motorbikes to waterfalls during the day, then seeing a variety of live music and the occasional traditional fire dance in the evening. I guess you can say I was on the 'Pai high' and I still can't stop smiling.
Although I could have stayed a lot longer, I returned to Chiang Mai on Sunday afternoon. The weather has become very sunny and very very hot and I decided that Chiang Mai would be my last stop in the north on the way to the beaches in the south later this week.
I arrived just in time to catch the last few hours of Chiang Mai's infamous Sunday market. It was a great way to spend my evening...walking through the hundreds of street stalls, buying a few things and enjoying my dinner of Pad Thai and mango sticky rice while sitting by a temple listening to monks chanting.
The last 2 days have been pretty low key for me. Each day seems to be quite relaxing and I spend most of my time wandering about the city, followed by reading for a few long hours in a hammock I have finished both books I brought with me - luckily there are always people to trade with.

Yesterday I went to a zoo here in Chiang Mai. I figured since it was set high on a mountain at the edge of the city, it might be a little cooler and give me an excuse to get some decent exercise.
The zoo was great (being the 2nd zoo I have visited in my life, I don't really have much to compare it to) and had everything from hippos, zebras, giraffes, tigers and lions to pandas, koalas, crocodiles and much more. It took me over 4 hours to walk through the park (which was mostly up and down hill) and I saw everything but the tigers, who were apparently sleeping in their dens...hmm.
It was interesting to see the security (or lack there of) at the zoo. The fences separating the animals and people were mere wooden posts with a few pieces of wood attached lengthwise (I could have easily slipped through the railings without any difficulty). Just beyond the fences were deep pits (sort of like a moat) that I can only assume is the real barrier between man and beast. Although the animals seemed quite relaxed and the lack of fences gave me an unobstructed view of them, I couldn't help but worry a little that a tiger or perhaps one of the large Asiatic black bears (one whom was suspiciously pacing back and forth as I stood trying to take a photo) would leap over the moat and through the fence to devour me as I was adjusting my camera for a better shot.
Anyways, I survived (of course) but remained a little cautious as I walked through the zoo.
Last night I met up with some people from my guesthouse (I am staying back at Julie's) and enjoyed some beer and some local live music. It turned out to be a much later night then expected and I am feeling a little tired and sick today.
So once I finish here, I am off for another massage from the lady with the magic fingers.
Tomorrow night I will catch the overnight bus to Bangkok and then connect with a bus and then a ferry to Ko Chang. It will take about 24 hours in total to travel between here and there, but luckily it is overnight, so I hope to get some sleep on the bus.
I am a little sad to be leaving the north. I have met some great people and seen some amazing things, but I am sure that the beaches and jungles on Ko Chang will be a good replacement.
Anyways, check out the new photos I have uploaded and the next entry you read will be from the south...yeah!
Love you and miss you all