Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sun Temple, Konark, Orissa

I though I would share some pictures of the Sun temple at Konark with everyone. No real blog entry, as I haven't done anything other than had a look at this place. Really nice and it is incredible how much detail has gone into it. Enjoy.

Tomorrow I head towards Nepal, so I won't have another update until I get to Pokhara (probably).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Puri, Orissa India, 10.03.2007 Part 3

Hey, I'm back. As promised, below is a copy of a newspaper picture which appeared here the day after we changed our tires in the middle of Puri. (See previous post..). Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) there is no article, only a caption. Sorry, I can't translate, but the gist is Cecilia & Khim Rojas from Switzerland on a world tour by motorcycle. Or something in that general direction.

Puri, Orissa India, 10.03.2007 Part 2

Getting our tires changed in the middle of Puri, Orissa

Well, in due time our tires arrived and we had them mounted at a nice little tirewallah in the middle of Puri. We literally stopped traffic, and the police had to step in. In the end there were three police persons (2 female, 1 male), hitting the bystanders with cane sticks to get them to move. The police started to get irritated at us, and the tirewallah, and told him to work faster, and tried to get us to move. They left us alone once they noticed that the tire was off the bike, but they weren't very happy.
In the time we were there (about 1 hour), Cecilia gave three interviews, or what passed for an interview. Someone pointed a camera at her and asked where are you from, and for her name, that is about it. The result can be seen below.
The following day (today), we have been stopped three times already and asked if we were the Swiss people. Apparently not only did an article appear in the Times, but also in the local language paper, with a photo. I will scan this in and post it the next time I get a chance.

The Times of India, Bhubaneswar-National Saturday, March 10, 2007
Wanderlust drives them around the world.
Debabrata Mohapatra - TNN

Puri: They say when the travel bug bites, it makes you do the most craziest of things to satisfy your wanderlust.
Ask Cecilia and Kim Rojas of Switzerland, they have sold off all their belongings and are using their lifetime savings for a trip around the world on their giant motorcycles.
The couple in their late thirties, have traveled across 12 countries covering nearly 31,000 km on the road. They reached the shores of Puri last week after traveling to various places across the continent for the last five months.
"We chalked out out plan for a world tour on motor bikes in 2004. Since then we started saving money for the purpose. We also raised some money from our friends and relatives," says 35-year-old Cecilia. The couple began their journey on October 10, 2005 from Lucerne in Switzerland.
They entered India from Pakistan at Amritsar through the Wagah border.
"We chucked out jobs and sold our belongings before starting this adventure. It was a dream come true for us the day we set off on this daredevil journey on two motorbikes," says Cecilia, a computer engineer like her husband.
"We decided to take two bikes because one bike is not enough for two. There's hardly any space left for the pillion rider after all the stuff have been loaded.
We've brought everything required for us on the bike, which forced us to go for two bikes," says Kim.
The couple are clear about what they want from the journey and spreading any message or creating a record is not on their agenda, they just want to enjoy wandering across the globe.
"We want to cherish our dream of visiting around the world on a motorbike.
But during our we have got a chance to learn the art and culture of different places.
We are really enjoying that," says Cecilia.
Kim and Cecilia do their best to keep their two BMWs in shape for the journey.
"We ride for nearly eight hours a day.
If we ride harsh, then the bikes cannot fulfill our dream.
Till now we have managed to sort our whatever small technical faults we encountered on our own," she says.
Kim says they have not faced any hurdle so far while crossing the borders of various countries.
"We have all the valid documents like passport, identity card and motorbike papers with us.
We found India pretty safe, though we never ride after dark," says Kim.
He says their journey will continue for another two years, but did not divulge their future destinations.
Talking about their experience in India, the couple say the hospitality they got at various places speaks volumes of the kindness and generosity of Indian towards visitors.

For the record, I gave no quotes whatsoever. The whole time I was working with the tirewallah to get the tires changed. Fighting people off the bikes so that we could get the work done. I am not even going to go into the details like, the fact that we have covered 22 countries, and gone over 60,000km to get here. It was very nice of him to label us as mid 30's though! Oh, and for the relatives and friends, don't feel left out if you didn't contribute to our journey, as we have not raised any money from our friends or relatives (of course if you want to contribute...). Also, my name is Khim...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Puri, Orissa India, 10.03.2007

Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu (in the foreground a sunrise/sunset viewing platform)

Well, it looks like I am now in North India, or at least this is where the guidebook for southern India stops. To get here I have traveled along the coast of India to the southern most tip and then up along the coast on the opposite (eastern) side.
After leaving Kovalam, I headed straight to Kanyakumari, which is the town at the southern most point on the Indian Subcontinent. It was a short ride from Kovalam, and I got there early in the morning. Just in time to watch the thousands of tourists coming back from the various viewpoints where they caught the sunrise. As I was so early I just took a couple of pictures and continued on. The town itself is a major stopping point for Indian tourists and pilgrims. It is a very significant spiritual place for the Hindus. As such there is a major Hindu temple at the very tip as well as memorial building to Gandhi and a huge statue of Thiruvalluvar a Tamil poet, which is India's "Statue of Liberty" (says so in the Lonely Planet!). One of the major surprises was once I was headed north I started to go through areas full of wind turbines, something which for some strange reason looked completely out of place, but on hindsight, made perfect sense, it is after all a very windy area.

Rameswaram (Ramanathaswamy Temple), Tamil Nadu

The roads had gotten pretty bad nearly the moment I got into Tamil Nadu so the going was slow, but I decided to head to Rameswaram, which I thought looked like a pretty cool place on my map. Getting there on the back roads was an adventure in itself. The advantages of which were that there was little traffic, and you got to go through a lot of little villages where no-one had ever seen any tourists. Plenty of little very colorful temples and plenty of fields, rice, sugarcane and the like. I had hoped to get more of a glimpse of the ocean, but no luck. Basically the same as in most of India, the area along the coast isn't really accessible and certainly not developed.

Indira Gandhi bridge, Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu

My reasoning for coming here was simply to see what there was here. On the map it looks like there is a road which almost makes it to Sri Lanka. An area noted as Adams Bridge. But to get here, I first had to cross one of India's engineering marvels the Indira Gandhi bridge which connects the Rameswaram Island to the mainland. The town itself is another pilgrim site with a very important Hindu temple in the middle of town. I really enjoyed Rameswaram, there is basically nothing there other than this temple, a small fishing harbour and water all around. No tourist (western), and plenty of opportunities to enjoy some excellent South Indian cuisine for a pittance. Masala Dosa anyone?

Fishermen in Dhanushkodi (Rameswaram), Tamil Nadu

I set up in a "cosy" hotel in the middle of town, with a great little garage to keep my bike under wraps and walked around the temple twice, watching the pilgrims. The following day I rode the bike to the end of the road. Unfortunately the road ends 4km or so before the "end of the road", so I had to turn around. I wasn't up for a long hike in the sand, and my bike hates sand. So instead I spent the morning watching the local fishermen/women pulling in the days catch. After 3 and a half hours they had gotten the net in and in the end carried 70 loads of fish (see picture above).

Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu (note the red kepi (cap) on the policeman!)

The following day I rode to Pondy (Pondicherry), and ex French colony on the east coast of India. Cecilia had been here a couple of weeks previously and had told me that it was really a great place. She was right. I really enjoyed it. It might have something to do with the fact that there was a Pizza Hut in town! The town is a cross between New Orleans French Quarter and the run of the mill Indian hustle and bustle. The old French part of town is clean and orderly and has very beautiful historic buildings, and street names and signs in French. The "Indian" part of town is where all the commerce and action is. There is a nice sea front with a large statue to Gandhi, but unfortunately no beach.

Since Cecilia had just informed me that she was ordering tires for the bikes I agreed to join her in Puri so that we would only have to do a single order. Unfortunately, I neglected to pay attention to exactly how far away that was, and my tires were not in very good shape. I had originally planned to do it here. But since it was just as easy to order 4 as 2 tires I opted for a quick ride north, hoping that the tires would hold.

Two days later I was in Puri, just in time for the Holi festival. The ride north was uneventful, other than I hit a bus and a rickshaw hit me. No damage to me in either case. The bus didn't notice, and the rickshaw scratched and dented part of his front quarter. I didn't bother stopping and continued, as it was in the middle of traffic going into Chennai, and wasn't my fault anyway. The first day after Pondy I stopped in Vijayawada a middle size town, with a huge Krishna river flowing nearby. I did a little sightseeing around town, nothing particularly exiting to report, just a busy town. Apparently there are a number of temples around, but as usual, I missed them. Early the following morning I took off, and rather than stopping I decided to go ahead and do the whole ride (840km). Well, it looked like a good idea at the time! The roads north of Chennai were excellent, and with the exception of 50km or so at and after the border to Orissa the roads were fine. There isn't much scenic value, just plenty of towns (small and large), broken up with fields, lots of traffic, heat and dust. So I was very glad to get the Puri. My tires had held, and I had no additional run-ins with the locals.

The Jagannath Mandir temple, Puri, Orissa

Puri turns out to be a major tourist magnet. There is a very important temple here for the Hindus, there is a beach for Indian tourist from Kolkata and western tourists from everywhere. Also, nearby is the Sun Temple at Konark, which is world Heritage site. The Indians, take advantage of the beach and the temple to combine their spiritual duties with a bodily holiday. When I got here the first thing I noticed was that there are a lot of religious "types" running around, and I am not talking about the normal Hindu pilgrims which for the most part are indistinguishable from normal tourists. What I am referring to are westerners seeking religious enlightenment or exercising some kind of religious duties here. I am loath to call them "Hare Krishnas", but basically a lot of people dressed in some kind of Indian clothing (something like a pyjamas gone crazy; one day I will find out what these things are called) carrying a bag on their right had containing prayer beads, and lots of chanting. Did I mention most have their hair shaved. What exactly they are doing here escapes me. And to be honest I am not all that interested. But here they are.
The local tourist stay at one end of the beach, the western tourists at the other, and rickshaw drivers take everyone to the center of town where the temple is. At one end of the beach there is a boardwalk (at least and Indian version of it).
As a quick side note. On the day I got here an America tourist had entered the inner temple. This is a major breach of temple protocol. The result of which, the days food had to be destroyed (they buried it), as it had been "defiled" by the entrance of a non-Hindu into the temple. Additionally, the American was fined 209rs for a purifying ritual (around 5$). The event was followed by a number of articles in the local papers, regarding that there should be more signs, better security, he should have been fined more money, etc. etc. What got me was that apparently a temple priest had helped him gain entrance, as had been captured by video cameras. They are still arguing about what kind of punishment the priest should be subjected to. Something which the temple administration has to do since there is nothing illegal about what happened. So the non-Hindus go to take pictures from the roof tops of adjacent buildings, and have a look at the Hindu pilgrims.

The result of Holi festivities

I got here late on Friday and Saturday I relaxed, on Sunday then I decided to have a look at the Holi festival. My view of it was basically a number of young men, on foot, on bicycles or moped, dousing anyone in their path with colors, and giving them a hug and wishing them a "Happy Holi". Another variation of it was mixing the color with water and spraying it on anyone who passes by, yelling Happy Holi. I didn't have to go far to enjoy the celebration, just outside the hotel was a major Holi spot. Some tourist would take a rickshaw and ply the strip and get colored from all sides (the driver or peddler also). To my surprise a lot of tourists were holed up in the hotel, fearing the revelers in the street. The excuses were that the paints used would take up to 3 days to go away, to that some of the paints were "toxic". Also very noticeable was the large police presence. Apparently, according to the newspaper the next day, they were there to insure that the revelers would not paint any tourists who did not agree to it. The festivities came to an abrupt end at 13:00 and life went back to normal. The stains on the street are still visible a week later, and in my case the paint came off with a single wash. Although to be fair, I must note that in a couple of cases reported in Delhi, there were in fact some victims of "toxic" paint. Causing scarring and some "disfigurement". In the past apparently this used to be a major problem, as they were using, real paint, mixed with mud, turpentine, or other agents, some which took very long to fade. Many of which caused skin problems or worse. But the trend in recent years has been to go with water soluble and natural dyes which cause no problems. So maybe some of the tourists were justified in their worries.

Sand sculptures, Puri, Orissa