Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Blog

Okay, so I took some advice and changed the url of my blog so that it would no longer have 'sex' in it. If you're looking for my new blog, so here and the url is http://tabs-examinedlife.blogspot.com/

Friday, June 26, 2009

Back in Brissie

27 May 2009
So, if I thought arriving in Thailand was good, Brisbane was even better. Sure, the curries are more expensive, as is everything else, but arriving back to the place I've called home for the past five years was comforting. Sure I was a bit skinny from too much trekking and giardia and not enough protein. If you're ever feeling a bit too thin, hang out in Aus, drink some beer and eat some rich food and you'll be cured!

Ro's mum picked us up at the airport and we drove back to their house, where we settled in for a nice meal with a view of Moreton Bay. Both Ro and I were knackered after the flight, which might I mention was delayed. Actually, to be perfectly accurate JetStar cancelled our flight for the second day in a row. Luckily they managed to squeeze us on a Thai Airways flight, so even though we'd only payed for a budget JetStar flight, which might I add doesn't include food, blankets or even water (!!!) we got a Thai Airways flight with inflight entertainment, meals,
blankets, pillows and yes, even water.

We don't have long left on this trip to Australia and I'm trying to make the most of it: a trip to Sydney, daily walks along Moreton Bay, catching up with friends, going out dancing, drinking too much (ouch. . .) I know it won't be enough time to do all the things I want to, but I mustn't worry, we'll be back.

Thailand, Round 2

14 May 2009 - 26 May 2009
Arriving in Thailand for the second time in six months really made me appreciate my life. To get to land in the tropical paradise and look forward to sun-baking, green curries and Thai hospitality is really a treat. It was particularly refreshing after having come from India and Nepal. Don't get me wrong, the subcontinent is a wonderful place to visit and I was lucky to spend the time there that I did. That said, five months on the subcontinent is just too much for this little monkey. I couldn't believe how clean everywhere looked in Thailand; no rubbish lying around, no cow
pats littering the road or footpath and there are footpaths (some anyway)!

We flew into Bangkok and stepping out of the airport is similar to stepping into warm bath; the humidity must've been above 90 percent. Still, it's nice to breath clean air and after having spent the last five years in Australia, I don't mind the humidity so much. Our goal was to make it to Ko Chang from Bangkok, but the last bus left an hour before we arrived, so we settled on a trip to Trat for the night. The bus ride to Trat was amazing; the roads in Thailand are so smooth, so paved and the drivers so sane and so quiet!

We arrived in Trat rather late, after 8:00. In India or Nepal this would mean that dinner a
nd drinks were out of the question, but we're not in the subcontinent anymore! In Thailand the world is just warming up at 8:00! So, after a shower we wandered out and got a delicious, spicy fish red curry and pork green curry. Next door to the curry stand was a general store where we got a Chang Draft (not the standard Chang and in my opinion, much nicer). How civilized to be able to eat and drink at the same time without feeling like we're committing a sin! A few more beers saw us to bed rather early.

The next morning we took a taxi to the ferry terminal and from there we headed to Ko Chang. The first beach we headed for was Lonely Beach, but don't let the name fool you. Even in low season the beach is crawling with teenage backpackers on their 'gap year', not exactly our scene. The beach there is amazing, but the bar is hopping until the wee hours of the morning and we generally are not, so we decided quieter beaches were in our future. We rented a motor scooter and scoped out the other beaches on the island. The most appealing with cheap huts right on the beach was Kai Bae, so we made the big move. Our hut on Kai Bae was cheap, isolated and mere seconds from the water. No backpackers or noisy bars here, just an American guy and his Thai wife as neighbors.

I can't say that we did much during those days in Thailand. What does one really need to do when food is so close and the beach even closer?! We did explore the island a bit on a motor scooter and paddled in a kayak over to a close by deserted island. Other than that we did a lot of reading, eating and lying on the beach. Ahh, the lovely last days of holidays.


1 May 2009 - 10 May 2009
We arrived in Pokhara after a six hour bus ride that was pure comfort when compared with our previous Nepali bus rides. Then the taxi ride through Pokhara's clean, quiet lakeside area showed me a place I knew I was going to like. The beautiful lake is rimmed by mountains, well, hills when compared with the massive Himalayan peaks towering over the town, and it is a stunning place. From the bus station you can see the best view any bus station in the world has to offer.

Our hotel, Hidden Paradise, was set up on a mountain overlooking Fewa Lake. After trekking and a week in hectic, rioting, demonstrating Kathmandu, I can't say it was eas
y to talk us into leaving our lovely room, but we managed it a few times. On several of the days on which we'd planned outings we kept in due to heavy storms that dumped buckets of rain, presented great flashes of lightning and shook the hills with booming thunder. The bright side to this was of course that we didn't have to leave and could instead take some time relax. The storms in Pokhara are incredible and reading that two people were hit by lightening during one of the storms we'd witnessed, our decision to stay in was confirmed as a wise one.
Despite the storms, we did manage to make it out and explore a bit. The lakeside village has stacks of places to eat, cool bars and more shops selling souvenirs than you could poke a stick at, so wandering around was interesting. Pokhara also has English bookstores, so we went a little book mad. During the nine days we stayed there, I read about seven books; having been starved of English books for several weeks I absolutely gorged myself on them!

I wouldn't say that we were keen to leave Pokhara, but our six months on holiday was nearing an end and beaches in Thailand were calling our names, so we bade goodbye to the lovely guys who run Hidden Paradise and set off back to crazy Kathmandu.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nepal and the Langtang Trek

7 April 2009 - 30 April 2009
My first impression of Kathmandu was that it doesn't look all that different from India: same looking shops, groups of men milling about aimlessly and the light has a similiar colour. There are differences though: there are more women around and they're not all dressed in the conservative salwar kameez or sari, some are even wearing tight jeans and fitted t-shirts! There are no auto-rickshaws and no cows!

We got a nice room in the Boudanath area (the Tibetan area of Kathmandu) and it's clean with towels and proper bed sheets. Nepal isn't quite as cheap as we were expecting though, taxis and food are expensive when compared to India (most places are). The Bouda area centres around the Boudanath Stupa, an amazing sight to behold.

One night in Boudanath we headed out for dinner rather than enjoying the food offered by our hotel. We came onto the main road and there were Nepali men, protesting down the middle of the road with sticks on fire. The power was out (as it is for a minimum of 16 hours each day), so there were no street lights. The demonstration was because the Nepalis don't feel that the new government is working for the people. They are frustrated because the government keeps saying the right words, but not following through with actions.

After a few days of resting and readying ourselves, we booked the bus and got the trekking permits to head up to the Langtang Region of the Himalaya. We were both excited to get up into the mountains and explore!

We arrived in Thulo Bharku from Kathmandu after a spine shattering, nerve-wracking and patience-trying bus journey that took no fewer than ten hours, with two breakdowns along the way. The bus was driven by two kids whose ages put together probably don't equal mine. Scary stuff! On the bright side, Thulo Bharku is a charming little village, full of bright-eyed and friendly kids. We had dahl baht takari (dahl, rice and veggies), which is fairly standard trekking food and it was good. After the long bus ride we fell into bed pretty early to prepare ourselves for the next day of trekking.

We left Thulo Bharku around 9 am, not off to a roaring start, but early for us. We walked until midday and stopped for lunch in Brabal. The menu here is the same as it is in Thulo Bharku. I had heard that the menus are created by a committee and then all the restaurants in the area are taught how to make the food on the menu and that’s all that served. The owner of today’s restaurant confirmed the committee theory, so it looks like we’ll have the same menu options for the duration of the trek. The options aren’t so bad, though by the end of the trek I might be quite tired of dahl baht!

We started the next day at Landslide Lodge at 1700 metres. The family there seemed in need of money and so to support them and take some pressure off me, we took the oldest son along for the day as our porter. I’m glad we did because it as another day of up, up, up. We got our first glimpses of the snow-capped peaks that we’ll be much closer to tomorrow. It’s amazing how much the landscape has changed as we’ve gone up. We started in the lush riverbed of Langtang River and as we worked our way up the greenery and trees got sparser. After a very long day of walking uphill we finished at Thangsyapu (3,140 metres), where we celebrated my birthday. Nothing like walking up a hill all day to make one feel her age, or perhaps her mother’s age! My birthday cake was a Snickers bar with a candle stuck in it and after such a long day of hiking, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Tomorrow we make our way to Kyangin Gompa. By looking at the map it’ll be another day of uphill, with the day finishing at 3,870 metres.

As expected, today’s walk to Kyangin Gompa was uphill, but for the first day on the trek thus far, some of the walk was relatively flat. For the effort of going further uphill, we were rewarded with even better views of the Langtang mountain range.

The people of the Langtang region are called the Tamang people. It is thought that four or five generations ago they migrated to the region from Tibet. They certainly look Tibetan! Along the track today we met an old man who claimed to be Tibetan. He communicated to us that he was selling all of his belongings because he had no money. He offered to sell us his necklace and to help him out, we bought it. When we arrived in Kyangin Gompa we met a man from Holland wearing a necklace much like the one we’d purchased on the track. It turns out he’d met the same Tibetan man with no money who was selling all his belongings. Looks like we both bought the same story and necklace!

The next few days we spent relaxing at Kyangin Gompa and sight seeing from our hotel room. We wandered out and around a bit, but it was quite cold and we were quite tired, so we weren’t game to wander too far. Still, the views were spectacular and well worth the effort of getting there.

The next couple of days were spent walking back down the way we’d come up to connect with the track that would take us to Gosain Kunda, a holy lake at 4,380 metres. Our first stop on the way to Gosain Kunda was Thulo Shryapru, a village reportedly with electricity and internet. Unfortunately when we were there, there wasn’t any electricity and hadn’t been any for days. Clearly no electricity means no internet, so it looked as if I was going to have to wait until we returned to Kathmandu to reconnect with the world.

From Thulo Shryapru (2,250 metres) we looked at the map to learn that we would wind our way up to Shin Gompa next (3,380 metres). All these mountains!

Another grueling day from Thulo Shryapru, walking up over 1.1 kilometres in one day. Because of the time we spent at Kyangin Gompa, the altitude isn’t troubling us too much, but we’re exhausted from so much walking and carrying our belongings on our backs. At Shin Gompa we decided to take another rest day. It’s so lovely and quiet in Shin Gompa, much quieter than much of the track up to now simply because we’re away from the roaring Langtang River. From here we can see the Langtang and Ganesh ranges.

One of the joys of travel for me is the food. You never quite know what you're going to get when you order and that's all part of the adventure. One night in Shin Gompa my husband was looking to order a bit of dessert. The menu said 'apple pancake with double egg' and he was thinking that meant a pancake with eggs blended in. Wasn't he disappointed when his apple pancake came out with two fried eggs on top?! 'What am I supposed to do with this' he wondered. . .

After a rest we made our way to Gosain Kunda.

Gosain Kunda was not to be the highest point of our trek – in order to start the descent back to Kathmandu, we first had to make it over Laurebina Pass, a whopping 3,610 metres. Mistakenly I thought that getting over the pass would be the most challenging part of day. The excitement of having made it so far and so high certainly did put a spring in my step for the first part of the day.

But the spring soon faded on the way down due to the steep drop and aching knees. The descent back into the low(er) lands was grueling, though refreshing at the same time. It was nice to get back down where the landscape of barren boulders has transformed into lush forests, but also nice to get back down to where I could breath!

Our first night on the descent back to civilization was spent at Gopte. I won't say that Gopte topped my list as favorite places: the guest house looked like it was thrown together and might fall apart anytime and the toilet was literally a hole in the ground with a platform built over it. Ewww. We had planned to take a rest day here, but decided that the From there we head even lower to Melamchigaon.

Peace, quiet and the Dalai Lama

4 March 2009 - 7 April 2009
Well, when I last wrote I was recovering from spending four days looking at a camel's backside and while it was a great adventure and very interesting, I was so glad when it was over. It was one of those experiences that was better to have done rather than be doing it.

Pushkar was our chosen place of recovery because of we'd heard from other travelers what a small, quiet place Pushkar is. To be honest, while it was small, it's absolutely not quiet and as most holy Hindu places in India, it's dirty, crowded and full of cows. As most tourist places in India, it's full of pushy Indians trying desparately to rip tourists off. In hindsight, not a great place to recover, but it did some good points. The guesthouse ownder, Ram, who gave us his house and the other guests at the hotel were a definite plus. It was nice to spend some time sitting around chatting to other foreigners and swapping stories of travel.

One day in Pushkar while I was walking down the street a gypsy woman said hello and dragged me into a chai shop. I'd had so few expereinces with Indian women (they're usually hidden away in their houses) that I didn't resist the opportunity to sit down and chat with one. Knowing I would need an out before I ended up going to this woman's house, adopting her children and bathing her mother, I informed her of a meeting with my husband that I had to leave for in 20 minutes. She immediately grabbed my hand and started to give me a henna tattoo (henna is a plant that is used in India to give temporary tattoos, some of which are absolutely beautiful). I'd been wanting a henna tattoo, so rather than pull my hand away, I let her continue. I watched first with interest and then with horror at what she was doing to my hand. By the time she'd finished, it looked like her henna pen had exploded all over my hand and forearm. Not for me the delicate swrils and flowers of the professionally done tattoo, no, I got the amateurs thick-lined, designed on the fly henna disaster. Thankfully it wasn't permanent and despite what she had done to me, I was feeling generous, so I bought her a chai and gave her 50 rupees (the henna pen costs 5 rupees). She said 'no, chappati flour'. I thought, okay, woman wants food, I can do that. So I let her drag me halfway across town to buy flour. We walked up to a shop and she had an exchange with the shop owner. He went to the back and returned with a bag of flour big enough to make a year's supply of chappati. I asked how much and was informed 150 rupees. I laughed and said 'no way'. She shrugged and said 'okay, you give me 100 rupees'. I gave her the original 50 rupees and walked off, annoyed that my initial generosity wasn't enough and she tried to push for more. You would think that by now I'd have stopped being offended and surprised, but what can I say, I am eternally, naively optimistic about human nature.

Rohan also had an experience with the gypsy women of Pushkar. He was walking down the street and was approached by two made up Gypsy women. He was as surprised as I was to be approached by an Indian woman. One of them took his hand and asked if he wanted 'something'. He took his hand back, politely answered 'no' and walked on. Later he found out that 'something' could've been anyhting from a henna tattoo, to hash or opium, sex. He was lucky to escape with just a handshake.

We left Pushkar and Rajasthan to head north, with the hope of finding cleaner surroundings and quieter airways. On the first train from Ajmer to Delhi I got my shoes repaired. The man wanted to charge me 15 rupees, but he'd offered such a vaulable service I have him 50 rupees and made his day. The train stopped at Jaipur and hawkers got on. One beggar approached Rohan and Ro gave him one rupee (it was the only little money he had on him). The beggar looked horrified. 'One rupee?! No sir, give me ten'. So Rohan took the one rupee back and turned to stare out the window. Even the other Indians around Rohan were a bit surprised, but you should never look a gift horse in the mouth. One rupee isn't a lot of money, but a few more of those and the beggar had a meal. It seemed quite cheeky for him to demand more.

Begging in India is often an organised racket. Poor boys, men, girls and women are organised by a 'pimp' who feeds and houses them and takes their earnings in return. The pimp may maime or disfigure them so they earn more money because of the sympathy a cripple receives. Women give their children cigarette burns to try to get sympathy by showing that their child has wounds and needs medicine and milk. The unwitting tourist gets taken to the pharmacy where they cough up for milk or medicine, which can run anywhere from 200 to 800 rupees. Then when the tourist walks away, the beggar brings back the medicine or milk, the shop gives her 80% of the money and keeps 20% and the milk or medicine for himself and the tourist walks away thinking they've helped save some baby, when all they've really done is further encourage begging. Beggars even fly from Delhi to the norht to take advantage of the tourist season; only the tourists take the bus. What can one do to actually help? Because there's no doubt that there are supremely destitute and wretched people who are genuinely in need. To tell you the truth, I don't know. The moral dilemma of being a 'rich' westerner who actually wants to help without causing more harm is one I continue to struggle with. The sometimes crushing Western guilt is something I think many who travel India (and other nations like it struggle with. But look at me complaining about Western guilt, at least I get a clean roof over my head, clean water to drink and clean food to eat.

After 30 hours of travel we pulled up in Mcleod Ganj, home of the Tibetan Government in exile. It's a beautiful place with the Himalaya serving as the background. The population there is mostly Tibetan, with some Indians and a smattering of expats thrown in the mixture. It was the calmest place we'd been in a while.

On the first morning in Mcleod Ganj I was having some breakfast and asked a monk who was sitting in the cafe where I could register for the upcoming teaching given by the Dalai Lama. He said he was waiting for a friend and then he would show me. We ended up spending the rest of the day with Tashi and Tenzin, two monks who fled Tibet nine years ago in order to receive a Tibetan education, as opposed to an expensive Chinese education or none at all. They escaped Tibet by foot by when Tenzin was 12 and Tashi was 16. At one point, two days walk from the Tibet-India border a blizzard hit. Tenzin's sunglasses had broken and he was rendered snow blind by the blizzard. Tashi held his hand and walked him to the border and to safety. When I was 12 I was worried about wearing the latest fashion and was crushed when I could only get one pair of Guess jeans. The stories of so many of the Tibetan refugees sure do put life into a different perspective.

While we were in Mcleod Ganj, the 50 year anniversary of the Chinese Government invading Tibet was observed. There were peaceful protests and hunger strikes. It is also one of the times of the year that the Dalai Lama gives a teaching on some part of Buddhist scriptures. The teaching is aimed at Buddhist (not like some of the Dalai Lama's speeches given in the West), but even for Rohan and I it was interesting to listen to. The opportunity to see the Dalai Lama's glowing, smiling face was really memorable. Even though he is over 70 years old, his smile and face look like that of a cheeky five year old.

We decided we should explore the surrounds since there were so many mountains around just begging to be climbed. One morning we set off up the mountain towards one of the peaks called Triund. After an hour and a half we reached a tea shop and decided to stop for a cup of chai. It's a good thing we stopped when we did because an almighty storm descended on us. When the rain and hail stopped and we were packing up to get down the mountain before it started again, we saw this very sad donkey. Half of his face was practically rotting off with infection. Both Ro and I felt horrible for the poor thing, but didn't really think there was much we could do for it.

The next morning at breakfast, these people approached us to tell us about an animal welfare clinic in the nearby town of Dharamsala. We told them about the donkey and they said that if Rohan could lead them to it, they'd send up the volunteer vet to have a look at it. Rohan made his way up the mountain after breakfast and found where the donkey lived. He spent the next six days trekking up the mountain with an Englishman we'd met named Jim. Rohan paid for antibiotics, bandages, hydrogen peroxide and anti-septic cream and Jim and he spent five days cleaning the donkeys face and injecting it with antiobiotics. When we left Mcleod the donkey was looking much better, but still needed further treatment, so Jim and Rohan paid the animal clinic to continue treatment and with any luck the donkey will be healthy in no time.

Apart from eating, hanging out with some cool people whom we'd met either in Mcleod or in other parts of India, relaxing and curing donkeys we didn't do much else there. I took on a couple of Tibetan students for a couple weeks of conversational English classes. After a month we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from Mcleod.

First stop after Mcleod as Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the Sikh Temple, similiar to the Vatican for Catholics. And it is beautiful. It boasts to be made of 750 kilograms of gold and was built five hundred years ago. It's open 24 hours, 365 days a year and is serving free food (suggested donation) all the time. The day we ate there we had rice, dahl, vegetable and paneer curry and some kind of deep fried sweet treats. It was delicious.

Amritsar is 30 kilometres from the only Pakistan-India order entry point. Every day before sunset they have a ceremony where they close the border for the day and lower the countries flags. Neither will lower theirs first, so they have to do it at exactly the same time. Leading up to the flag lowering, there is much pomp and ceremony. It felt like a sports match! Each side is blaring music and attempting to out-do the other side. Pakistan is shouting something to effect of 'Pakistan is the best' and India's shouting something similiar about their country. And there are so many people on the Indian side! Thousands of Indians are sitting around cheering for how great their country is. Some girls got even up and were dancing to show how good India is! Both sides have soldiers who stomp around, glare at each other and attempt to show their superiority. Frankly, they all look a little silly. At the end of it all, the flags are lowered, both sides shake hands with each other and the gates are shut until tomorrow when it will happen all over again. It's a rather odd event, but it's hard not to get sweptup in the excitement of it all.

We celebrated Rohan's birthday in Amritsar with Jim. We had a few beers and some Tandoori Chicken (Sikhs eat meat and since Amritsar is the Sikh capital, we figured we'd be alright).

After a few days in Amritsar, we headed to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Agra itself is as dirty and foul as any big city, but so many people go there to see the Taj. It is really amazing, but after seeing the Taj, we were out of there.

Next stop, Delhi. Some friends we'd met a couple of times in India and spent lots of time with in Mcleod were also in Delhi, so they reserved us a room and we spent out last night in India there. The room was probably the nicest we'd stayed in, with all the things that probably sound normal to folks back home, but here are deadset luxuries: hot shower, clean room, soap, towels, clean sheets and a television. We scrubbed off the dirt of another long train ride in India (our last for the trip), ordered room service and spent our last night relaxing in style.

So, we made it through three and a half months in India. We're both about ten kilos lighter than the last time we saw many of you because of a variety of stomach bugs we've suffered through. We're tired and we're ready for a break from India, but I have to say that I really did enjoy myself there. It was easily the most difficult place I have travelled, but there are so many bright sparkly moment that stand out from the dark times. I've realised new dark depths of myself that I never really knew existed, but I've also glimpsed a better side that can be kind to people even in the face of stress and adversity. At Indian immigration as we were leaving to go to Kathmandu, the immigration man decided to start a discussion with me about the importance of a positive outlook on life. He said if you look for the good, you'll find it and if you look for the bad, you'll find that too. Then looking meaningfully in my eyes he said 'Madam, you are the kind of person who finds the positive and so I think your life will be happy.' That moment as I was leaving somehow sums up what I like about India.

Well, our next adventure is in Nepal. We're heading up into the mountains for three weeks, so no doubt you'll all hear from me when I get back!


17 February 2009 - 3 March 2009
So, we made the train trip north from Mumbai to Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The overnight train was a bit noisier this time around due to some passengers that got on the train around 11:00 pm (we got on around 4:00pm). Despite the fact that everyone's seat numbers are clearly printed on each ticket and the seats are clearly labelled, the most recent arrivals to our car couldn't seem to sort out where they were supposed to be sitting. The arguing and yelling stretched across the car and pulled Ro and I out of a deep slumber. By the time they'd finished arguing we were completely awake and totally annoyed. What did they all do then? Settle quickly into a farting, snoring sleep that successfully prevented us from doing the same.

Our arrival into Jodhpur saw us accompanied by another well meaning, bossy Indian who was determined to tell us where to go and how to get there. We shook him off and found the man from the hotel we'd booked holding a sign with 'Rohan' written on it. Is there a more comforting sight after on overnight train in India? If there is, I can't rightly think of it. This man put us in a rickshaw and told us to pay the driver 40 Rs upon arrival. We'd been told the pick-up was free and we shared this with our man. With no argument he said 'okay' and sent us on our way. Another 40 Rs saved!

When we'd booked the hotel we'd asked for an inexpensive room. The 650 Rs we were quoted seemed a bit expensive, but it was the cheapest we'd been able to find through research and we wanted somewhere to go after an overnight train ride. Upon arrival there and after a rest we got up and headed out to search out somewhere a bit more budget friendly. We found a good place for 200 Rs and decided we'd move there. When checking out the next day they asked us where we were headed. They pushed us until we told them the hotel we were going to. We told them we'd found a room twice as big, quieter and for half the price, with a view of Mehrangarh Fort from our window. They informed us that they had cheaper rooms they could move us to. Hmm, would've been nice to know about those cheaper rooms from the get go. We decided to go with the hotel that was giving a fair price first up, not only when threatened with losing business. If you're ever in Jodhpur, may I recommened Achar Newas? The rooms are spacious and cheap and the view is spectacular. The people who run the place don't speak enough English to pester you with sales pitches or invasive questioning, yet are kind and pleasant to deal with.

Jodhpur is a spectacular city. It is also referred to as the Blue City because the houses are washed in paint that has indigo in it - this is supposed to keep the buildings cool and act as an insect repellent. It certainly does make the place pretty to look at!

One of the major attractions of Jodhpur is the Mehrangarh Fort. We made our way through the back alleys to try and find it. The fort itself is pretty amazing, particularly a royal room devoted to sensual pleasure with a ceiling carved of gold. The view from the ramparts was pretty spectacular. The hand carved marble screens within the palace were impressive; they were used so women could see what was happening in the court without being exposed to the lustful gaze of men. There was an idol in the museum women prayed to for long life for their husbands. This isn't as selfless as it might sound: the practise of sati (a woman throwing herself on her husband's burning funeral pyre, thereby burning to death and joining her husband in the afterlife) was not uncommon practise. After all, what is a woman's life worth without her husband's dirty underwear to wash?! Sati still happens in rural villages, mostly in Rajasthan.

While sati is no longer widely practised, women seem to have a far inferior role in much of Indian society, though there are laws attempting to reverse this. In the north, most women cover their heads with dupattas and many cover their faces as well. Predominantly boys are favoured for education, food, and sometimes even life, as female infanticide still happens, mainly in the rural areas. On the streets, men are far more prevalent and visible; they greatly outnumber the number of women. Women dress quite conservatively everywhere bar the big cities and even there they dress extremely tamely when compared to the west (a really daring outfit might include fitted jeans and a loosely fitted t-shirt, oh the immodesty!). Like I mentioned, there are a whole slew of laws attempting to change the status and rights of women, but with a civilisation as old as India's, change is slow to come.

We were meandering through the streets of Jodhpur when a man pulled up on a motorcycle and stopped in front of us. 'Be careful around here. You are in much danger. People here attack you. This your problem.' Then he drove away. This news might have been exceptionally unsettling except that Indians are always warning us against them: 'People from (insert city, state, geographical locality, etc.) will cheat you'. This said by a person from a city or state you've just come from and where undoubtedly we'd either been cheated in or there's been attempted cheating.

Not long after our warning, this crazy little man popped out of his house with an exuberant 'Hello!'. He invited us in for tea and since his whole family was there inviting us in, we felt fairly safe. He proceeded to feed us tea, entertain us, and send us on our way.

Jodhpur is a lovely city. The scenery looks so Indian, so much what I pictured India would look like. There's an incredible temple we climbed up ladder after ladder to get to because it's perched on top of a massive rock. The view from in between the rocks holding the temple up is pretty special. Jodhpur has palaces, a fort, a clock tower that the market gathers around, where camels and elephants are seen along with cars and rickshaws.

From Jodhpur we bussed or way to Ossian, a small village about an hour and a half away. As with much of our trip, we knew little to nothing about where were going and when the bus dropped us in the middle of this po-dunk village where no one seemed to speak any English or be the slightest bit interested in helping us, we were wondering if this time we'd stuffed up. Luckily, a priest from one of the local temples showed us to the tourist guest house. The very helpful man at Ossian Guest House, who also runs the town's Jain Temple gave us a room and sold us a three-day camel trek, heading towards Pushkar, our next destination.

So, we found ourselves packing up the next morning and heading out into the desert in the back of a camel cart.

For lunch we stopped at a hut and lunched with some desert men. Once we'd finished lunch the men got out some mystery herb, mixed it with water, filtered the water and insisted we drink it. Not knowing if we were going to get high or diarrhoea (or both), we drank it so as not to offend. It didn't appear to have any immediate effects.

Our next stop was for afternoon tea, where we were served and drank tea with camel's milk in it. We also witnessed our camel man, Dunshing, drink milk fresh from a camel's udder. After we'd packed up and headed off from afternoon tea and after about thirty metres, the camel man pulled over, hopped out, hid behind the cart we were sitting in and did his 'business' so to speak, with us fully in ear shot.

We set up camp for the night and broke our non-drinking fast by sharing a bottle of Old Monk rum with Dunshing. We were hoping the rum would help us sleep in the too-small camel cart, but for me unfortunately the rum was of no assistance. Getting up in the morning after having frozen and tossed and turned all night, we peeked out from beneath our blankets to see that we had an audience. In good humour we shared our fruit with the family who'd so patiently waited for us to get up so they could watch our every move.

Speaking of audiences, every where we went on the trek we had observers. Every house we went by, every village, every shop , temple or school. Some wanted to chat, others wanted 'one pen', some wanted photos and yet others just wanted to have a really good, solid stare with no interaction. Both Rohan and I were generous with our conversation and provision of entertainment. The constant audience gets tiresome, but getting annoyed or ignoring them is more tiresome and only makes us feel worse. So, I generally say 'hello' and even attempt interaction, even though that provides untold amusement and is met by children and adults alike falling into helpless giggles. On the bright side, I've never been so effortlessly funny in my life!

On day two of the camel trek we stopped for lunch with Dunshing's aunt. There were were subjected to yet another round of 'Gather Round and Stare'. At one point I found myself with three women, one child and five men all sitting on the floor in front of me, as if I were their grade school teacher or something. I wasn't talking, I was just sitting, but let me assure you, it was fascinating! One of my 'pupils', the leering 18 year old one, was somehow nominated to make the rest of the journey with us as our cook and our interpreter (Dunshing speaks a sum total of about 15 words of English; still more than my Hindi or Rajasthani). Unfortunately our new joiner neither spoke English or knew how to cook. His one talent seemed to be leering at me, so neither Ro nor I was thrilled about this boy joining us. Fortunately after an or so he hopped off the cart with no explanation and walked off into the desert. Good riddance!

Night two of the camel trek we settled in with some more Old Monk. Rohan must've consumed a bit too much of the ole' rum because when he attempted to stand up and head to bed, he fell over and landed smack bang on his dirty dinner plate. The next morning he didn't remember going to bed or asking repeatedly for the torch and water, even though he had both in his possession. He did however remember being pulled out his drunken sleep by a Hindi festival in the middle of the desert that started at 12:30. He doesn't remember how late it went because he fell back asleep, but unfortunately I didn't have the same luxury and laid awake until well after the festival finished (3:00am!!!).

The next morning saw us facing our typical studio audience. From the moment our heads popped out of our sleeping bags until the moment we were packed up and ready to go we had a minimum of eight eyes on us. Somehow word always seems to get around that there are foreigners camping and packing their bags, so our audience would grow. The point of camping and trekking was to get away from it all, but by removing four walls and a lockable door, we'd placed ourselves smack-bang in the middle of it. And as a woman, I'm such a novelty out there! You don't see many women around, certainly not in the village centres and absolutely not wandering further than the well from home. On the third morning camel man shared with our audience the fact that I was drinking alcohol the night before and the audience (all men) were visibly shocked. One man was so shocked, yet managed to ask 'You. . . drinking. . .?', as if that could quite possibly be the most preposterous thing he'd ever heard. 'Yes', I admitted, feeling slightly chagrined despite myself. After my shameful confession, I attempted to justify my behaviour by explaining that where I come from, both men and women drink. I would love to have been able to explain that women are treated almost the same as men (yes, there still is sexism in the west, but now's not the time to go into it. After being in India for over two months, I am so appreciative of my freedom in the West) - we can wear, drink and eat whatever we want to. We can go wherever, whenever we want. We can choose to remain unmarried and we don't necessarily have to have children, whether married or not. But how does one explain this to a group of men who speak no English? And even if there was no language barrier, how does one overcome the cultural differences and understanding? Women's lib has hardly touched India and it's yet to be seen in rural Rajasthan. What a strange creature I must be to them.

By the final day of the camel trek I'd resorted to covering my face an attempt to reduce the staring. I can't say it worked. In fact it just made them stare harder and longer to try to figure out what my face looked like. What does it say about the men of a place when women can't even show their faces. . .

The final day saw us making our way to Bawari, where we'd planned to take the bus the rest of the way to Pushkar. There was a town meeting called to discuss, argue and shout about the best way for us to get to Pushkar. We ended up taking the bus route that looked shortest on the map. What should've been a three or four bus trip ended up taking seven, dusty, hot hours over back 'roads'. We arrived in Pushkar so shattered and so tired, but the place we checked into had hot shots and seemed quiet enough. We were both planning on eating some dinner and hitting the hay early.

As we sat down to order dinner, some drums started up next door. And not your teenager practising for her or his rock band, this was some seriously loud and committed drumming coming from directly next door. We asked the hotel man what was going on. He explained that wedding preparations that had been going on for the past four days had finally come together for the last and final night before the wedding. Both Rohan and I were desperate for some sleep and the celebrations were expected to shake the local area (including our hotel room just next door) until two or three in the morning. Thankfully we looked so desperate that the hotel man offered us his house to sleep in for the night. The house turned out to be quiet and dark and provided us with one of the best night's sleep we've had since being in India.

We leave Pushkar tomorrow to head north to Himachal Pradesh. Another overnight train will see us arriving in Dharmasala, where the Dalai Llama is supposed to be giving a teaching on 11 March. We're both quite excited about getting north where it's supposed to be cleaner and a bit more chilled out than where we've been.