Luang Prabang

Four days ago Clayton gave George the assignment to write a blog entry after a great bike ride, “It’s your turn Dad.”  But 3 days later, you know George’s phrase, “hey! I’ve been busy,” and Clayton is still waiting.  And now George’s assignment has grown into documenting what has been an exceptional week.  This explains the lapse of blogging this week and so I will help out my husband with a little writing of my own.

Before I begin, I left Clayton and Katy the second week of November on a dirty side street in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal. For the last two months I’ve looked forward to this trip to Cambodia and Laos, but each morning I’ve woken up with the thought, “I can’t believe those two are still on their bike.”

First things first, in Luang Prabang we rented some mountain bikes and rode a 25-mile loop into the Chompett District, northwest of Luang Prabang.  (And I thought those two would want some time off the bike.) We had to first put our bikes on a boat (giant canoe) to cross the Mekong River.  Our boat driver pushed off from shore before checking to see if the engine would start.  The current wasn’t too brisk and we were rescued a quarter mile downriver.  Transferring bikes and people from a boat that is 25 feet long but only 3 feet wide onto another boat of similar dimensions can be very comical!   George’s weight distribution almost sent us all swimming.

At last we were on our way biking on a very hilly dirt road.  A bumpy road, rutted tire tracks, and hills after hills tested my legs.  But not Katy.  She can power up hills like nobody’s business.  We think she was so happy to be the one out in front for a change. The country was extremely rural, with small villages consisting of just three or four homes here and there.  No one spoke English .  No signage.  Just us and Clayton’s GPS (which is usually asking town people for directions and a lot of pointing).  The best is to come upon children playing in schoolyards.

Around noon I started getting hungry and didn’t think the single can of Pringles in Clayton’s pack would feed four hungry mouths. “Don’t worry Mom, we’ll find a meal,” Clayton reassured me. After Duck Duck Goose at a Primary School we stopped at a village funeral luncheon.  Clayton doesn’t hesitate in diving right into funeral luncheons.  Who wouldn’t?  After sticky rice, chili paste, greens and meat, George was motioned to enter the village temple to see the coffin of a deceased wife and pay for our lunch ($2/person) by an offering to the funeral. Or maybe he was invited in cause he looks like a bank.

The day was magical.  “Look George!  We aren’t in Kansas anymore.”    Rice fields.  Water buffalo. Poinsettia trees in bloom.  Palm trees.  Bamboo houses with thatch roofs.  Children transporting siblings to school on the back of their bike.  Laos is a beautiful country.  And this day we discovered how beautiful the people are.

Thanks Clayton for being our bike guide!

***

My turn, oh my gosh. Big shoes to fill. Very well, where do I begin? The details of our week were quite . . . inconsequential?  This is Clayton’s Father, Dr. Evil.

Humor aside, we’ve had a fantastic last couple of days.

One issue my wife Charlotte and I have discussed is how much time, when traveling somewhere new, should be spent in a particular location. Should you move around a lot and see as much as possible or settle in to one location for a longer time to let the place sink in a little deeper. This trip has definitely been the latter approach. First three nights in Siem Reap Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and all the associated temples – some Hindu, dedicated either to Vishnu or Shiva, and some Buddhist, dedicated to the Buddha. Every king back in the Khmer period (900 – 1300) had the job of building an awesome temple, and as Clayton’s youngest brother Eli might say, I’d like to congratulate them all on a job well done.

One thing I enjoy in particular about traveling is learning about the different religious beliefs and practices since, in the long run, that will end up being the only part that matters. One big plus of Buddhism over Hinduism is its relative simplicity: just one Buddha versus the seeming chaos of deities over in India. But I am not crazy about the Buddhist chanting. It is low pitched and very nasal, and gives me a bit of an upset stomach. So three days in Cambodia was a great way to get started.

Then we flew to Luang Prabang Laos, and this is our sixth day here.   And it has been just great settling in here for a solid week. This is kind of a tourist mecca in Laos – the number of guest houses has tripled since 2005. But it is still a quaint, charming small town, on the Mekong River.   We are staying at the northeast end of town on a peninsula where there are numerous Buddhist monasteries populated mostly by 12 – 18 year old “novices,” who will decide by the time they are 20 whether to become full-time monks or go out in the “real world.” We have talked to several. Very nice young men, which is no surprise because the Lao people (“Laotian” is no longer used – that is a French vestige) are perhaps the most consistently kind, gentle, and HAPPY people I have been with anywhere. It seems everything is funny here.

The country is poor but people are industrious and energetic. There is no sense that the relative absence of things that Western culture has been so good at producing is cutting into the quality of life here. We have had great food, and some of the best food has been the cheapest. Clayton leans very strongly toward “street food” which he claims has much more flavor – including the barbequed chicken feet he picked up for a snack this afternoon. Also, lots of sticky rice.

Sticky rice is the ‘bees knees’ of Lao cuisine, and will be mentioned in a separate entry.

This has been a great place to live for a week. I would recommend Luang Prabang to anyone who just wants to settle into Indochina for a while in a beautiful mountain setting and relax, have some adventure, and hang out.

I need to give credit where it’s due, however, for the high quality of our trip. Clayton and Katy are like a travelling machine. Trained professionals. When we arrived here Clayton led a night tour through town – down a dirt alley, then down very steep wooden steps, across a bamboo bridge over the smaller river in town, up to the night market – all as if he lived here. And I have had a few conversations with Katy and different locals where I have no idea what is being said and Katy is just following along as though a native. So we do have first rate tour guides and that is very much appreciated. It has been totally fun traveling with them and really not having to figure anything out. (Because after all – I’m an old man, I’m confused.)

Charlotte has already written about our 25 mile bicycle ride into the hills. I get to write about our overnight trek back into the mountains, which was the next day. We got into a tuk tuk taxi first thing and were escorted by our guide Nong. The others in our group were Hi, (he was our porter and didn’t speak any English, I don’t think), and one other tourist, Helmut, from Germany. We drove about an hour north and then headed on foot and over river up into the mountains. Lunch was served on a couple of banana leaves in a little outdoor hut, consisting of sticky rice and an assortment of vegetables, and was delicious.

We passed through several villages along the way. One problem I had is that they all reminded me of some scene from a Vietnam War movie – Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Apocalypse Now, even Forrest Gump (“Get down, shut up!) where the villages all get napalmed and incincerated. It was nice to see some of these beautiful villages where that wasn’t happening.

Just before we stopped for the evening we walked through a Hmong village. There were perhaps 80 dwellings, and people there living a very basic life. Weaving bamboo, taking care of farm animals, that sort of thing. Speaking Hmong. Even Clint Eastwood learned to love these people.

Then we climbed over the brow of the next hill and below us lay a Khmu village, roughly the same size. We wandered into town just before sunset. It was amazing. This little town is completely self-sustaining, with many pigs and chickens and ducks, wandering everywhere between the various dwellings, which are made of wood and bamboo. The people were living about the same as say a thousand years ago, with a few notable differences: many corrugated metal roofs, a couple of little stores where you could buy a soft drink (warm), several motorcycles, and some electrical generators.

Otherwise this could have been an ancient village. We had sticky rice (of course) for dinner, we watched them kill the chicken we ate, and also had a good assortment of greens. Among his many other roles, Nong was an excellent cook. The kids were everywhere, playing, playing, playing, and laughing. There were a couple of central bathing areas where you could clean up.

After it got dark we crawled into bed. We slept on mats placed on wood platforms inside a home with dirt floor.   The home right next door had just been completed, and the local custom is to inaugurate a new building by partying all night. So the generator was used to power music that went well past midnight, I think, at a very high volume. Bad timing for us sleep-wise, but now and again these things just got to be done! The music was really great: a little disco-ey, and some reminded me of Pink Floyd, but all the singing was Asian (maybe Lao, how would I know)? All very danceable.

Morning came and we didn’t want anyone to think we were a bunch of stiffs. So when they stoked up the music again at breakfast time first Katy, then Clayton, then Charlotte and I stated dancing out in front of our place.   And attracted quite an audience. They were all very amused – by Katy’s dance moves, Clayton’s celebratory hairstyle (ponytail on the side, reserved for special occasions), and somehow although this is one of the most surreal things I have ever done, it all somehow seemed to fit. The little kids joined in and it turned into a nice morning dance party with the Khmu hill people in northern Laos. Little did we know at the time that the women had resumed the inauguration ceremony inside the new building by drinking rice wine from long straws. This was a fantastic experience.

A couple of words about our guide, Nong. Like many of the Lao we have met, he was extremely friendly and upbeat. He was maybe 27 years old. His English was excellent, and he was very well educated and informative on a wide variety of subjects. He had grown up in a small village not unlike the Hmong and Khmu villages we visited. He was just an exceptional person.

He told us that between 1972–74 his parents, before they had married, lived in a cave about 50 kilometers southeast of Luang Prabang, for about two years. The reason? Nong said that during that time the United States was constantly dropping bombs in northern Laos. I knew about the secret bombing of Cambodia that stemmed from the Vietnam War but I had never heard this before, and was dubious. I checked it out. Between 1964 through 1973 the US carried out one bombing mission, EVERY 8 MINUTES, 24/7 – for nine straight years. More bombs were dropped on Laos than the US dropped in all of World War II. Tens of thousands of innocent people were killed. There are still TONS of unexploded cluster bombs dotting the northern Lao countryside, and several hundred people annually get killed by them. The full extent of all this was not disclosed until the Clinton administration. The missions were carried out because Viet Cong soldiers were here.

Sorry to end this little insert to The Touring Tandem’s blog on a downer. But after having been exposed to a wonderful culture full of very beautiful, happy people I was just a bit stunned and disgusted by this information. When Nong sensed our collective reaction to what he had told us, he was quick to add, “It was a very hard time for the Lao people, but we don’t blame American people for that. People are usually not the problem, it’s a problem of government and politics.” And the topic changed and Nong laughed again.

Our Khmu Village
Our Khmu Village
Grammar Lesson
So that’s a dangling modifier.
Our home.
Our home.
Sticky Rice and Chili Paste
Sticky Rice and Chili Paste
Pratts love to dance.
Pratts love to dance.
Morning Alms.  Monks collect offerings of rice and food every morning at 6am
Morning Alms. Monks collect offerings of rice and food every morning at 6am
Lunch
Lunch with Nong
Family Photo
Family Photo
Hut
Hut
Village
Village
Village Taxi
Village Taxi
Fording the River
Fording the River
Sabaidee
Sabaidee
Going Down the Road
Going Down the Road
Rice
Rice
Hula Time
Hula Time
A "wad" of cash
A “wad” of cash
Mango and Sticky Rice
The lines between fruit, dinner and dessert are very blurry.
You can build anything with bamboo.
You can build anything with bamboo.
IMG_9490
Just keep it steady.

 

The Might Mekong
The Might Mekong

IMG_9507

School
School

Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap

Vientiane, Laos.  Chillax.  I think that’s the best word to describe the capital city of one of the five remaining communist countries in the world.  Chillax.  As in chill and relax.  When we arrived a couple days back I imagined we had snuck up on southern California from maybe 70 years ago.  A lot of laid back folks, good street food, and instead of the beach the Mighty Mekong River.  A couple days there until a flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cambodia uses the US dollar as currency, which really puts a damper on my ability to barter.  It’s easy to haggle over the price of a tuk-tuk when you’re bartering between 40 or 50 or 60 Indian rupees.  But when a guy tells me a ride is $2, I just have a hard time saying, “No, how about $1.75.”

On April 17, 1975 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  On that day, kids put down their toys and men left their shops and lined the streets, cheering their arrival.  They assumed their civil war had come to an end.  They were wrong.  Three days later, 90% of the 400,000 inhabitants had all been forced from their homes into the countryside.  For Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, April 17, 1975 was year zero.  They day he would restart civilization and build an agrarian communism.  His plan was to remove all education, religion, business and family and create a new people who basically did two things: grew rice and pledged their allegiance to the state.  Anyone of mixed ancestry was killed, those who wore reading glasses were killed (they spent too much time away from the fields), if you had an education or knew a foreign language, also killed.  (Which is strange cause Pol Pot was educated in France and spoke French).  Over the next three years a quarter of Cambodia’s then 8,000,000 population would die, either buried in one of the hundreds of mass graves throughout the country or starved to death (Pol Pot sold much of the grown rice to China in exchange for weapons to maintain military control).

Seventeen kilometers south of Phnom Penh is Choeung Ek, the mass grave associated with the Tuol Seng Prison in Phnom Penh.  Tuol Seng, or S-21 as it was commonly called, was the Khmer Rouge’s infamous torture chamber and prison.  During Pol Pot’s reign of horror, he became possessed by the idea that others were in league with the CIA or KGB.  As soon as he suspected this behavior (in either a man who had been a farmer all his life or someone inside his inner circle) they were sent to S-21 and tortured.  The only way to end the torture was to confess to wrongs they didn’t commit.  Then, around 6:30pm, a couple times a month, 50-70 people were loaded into trucks, told they were being taken to a “new home” and delivered to the killing fields.  Under the loud drone of a diesel engine and blaring Khmer Rouge Party music, mass graves were filled and covered before morning.  About 20,000 people were killed in Choeung Ek.  As Katy and I walked through the site, a peaceful, but tragic, calm was present.  These people’s lives were ruined, but the torture was over.  A sign on the trail read, Don’t Step on Bones, next to some bones that had slowly made their way to the surface during the yearly rainstorms.  Further down the trail a couple teeth were seen on the trail.  It’s impossible for me to look at other people in this country and have any idea what someone their life might be like.  Every time I see a Cambodian, I think to myself, “Is that person forty?”  Cause if they are older than forty they lived through something more horrible than I can even imagine.  Then I wonder, were they on the being killed or the killing side?  Were their family members innocently killed?  Or did they ruthlessly kill others, possibly with pickaxes in order to save precious bullets, so they wouldn’t be killed themselves?

Then, something a little more cheerful happened, we went to the airport and met . . . . . . my parents.  Whoa.  It was a realization that back home still exists and in three short months we will be there.

We spent the last three days with them at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.  Angkor Wat is the largest temple complex in the world (and since we are a temple loving people, and also Vishnu loving people, we thought it might be nice to pay a visit).  My parents spent a lot of time arguing over the more industrious people – the Khmers who built Angkor Wat in 35 years or the Mormons who built the Salt Lake temple in 40 years.  My father asked our guide a host of questions about the temple (all the temples happen to be Hindu temples, and since my father’s recent visit to India, he has become a bit of a Hindu devotee) but most questions were answered by a sentence similar to, “We think they kept records that talked about stuff like this, but all the records were looted.”  Where did the heads of these statues go?  Looted.  Did something used to be here?  Looted.

At church this morning, a lady in an orange and blue plaid shirt and peculiar green pants that kind of looked like pajama pants got up from her seat in front of us to give the final talk of sacrament meeting.  It didn’t look like she wasn’t wearing shoes as she walked up the aisle and it appeared that many years of hard work had taken a toll on her.  She began to speak (all translated through a headset by a missionary) and talk about her difficult life at home, poverty, a son who drinks too much, her conversion to the church three years ago and her resilience to push on.  She started crying at the pulpit, and they weren’t tears of fleeting emotion or spiritual sensitivity.  She cried about how difficult her life had been.  I can only imagine why she might have been there without a husband.  I can’t imagine what it might be like to live in real poverty.  I got the feeling this lady has never taken a hot shower or laid down under clean sheets.  She’s probably never been on a vacation and will never sit down to dinner in a restaurant.  In LDS circles, people often say things like, “oh, but in the next life all of this will be made right.”  How will a life of suffering and a life of prosperity and ease be “made right?”

Contrary to the difficulty of Cambodia, or maybe because of it, the first thing you notice when you fly into Cambodia (or Laos) is the friendliness of these people.  I think friendliness of strangers increases in direct ratio to the distance we have travelled away from the United States.  Cambodians (and Laotians) other enduring trait is a love of laughter.  Our tuk tuk drivers, waiters, guides, church members, everyone we meet can’t get through a couple sentences without a chuckle here or there.  Although, if you get them speaking about how they feel about the Israelis, Chinese or Koreans they will definitely speak their mind.

Today we all flew from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang, Laos.  Laos is enchanting.  After Slovenia, it is #2 on my list of “places I knew nothing about the day I entered them but now absolutely love.”

Exploring Vientiane
Exploring Vientiane
Vientiane
Vientiane
IMG_9315
Tooth of deceased, Killing Fields.

IMG_9317

S-21 Survivor
S-21 Survivor
Spots to hold keys to jail cells.
Spots to hold keys to jail cells.
Killing Fields Memorial
Killing Fields Memorial
Fruit.
Fruit.
Angkor Wat, sunrise.
Angkor Wat, sunrise.
Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

IMG_9398 IMG_9388

Mango and Sticky Rice
Mango and Sticky Rice
Fish massage
Fish massage
They've been out for a couple days and already need a massage.
They’ve been out for a couple days and already need a massage.
Travel Buddies
Travel Buddies

Rishikesh > Gurgaon > Bangkok > Vientiane

Shhhh.  Don’t move.  It’s so quiet.  Very quiet.  And calm.  And clean.

When we landed in Vientiane, Laos everything was instantly different.  The line to get a visa on arrival was short and lacked the ridiculous amount of paper work we saw in Kathmandu.  Just a friendly man, who answered our questions, stamped our passports and pointed us in the right direction.  We got to the baggage claim last, and there were only six bags left – four of them were ours – and no people in sight.  I can’t remember the last time I was in a public building and couldn’t see any other people.  Just sitting by their peaceful selves, our bags looked lonely.  Even our bike could tell we had left the commotion and India and it could relax.

We grabbed our bags and exited the area.  No one checked our baggage tickets.  No one tried to rip off our arm and pull us into their taxi or to their hotel.  I withdrew 1,000,000 laotian kip from the ATM, not because I’m a millionaire but because an 8,092 to 1 exchange rate calls for some large currency.

Placing our bags into the bag of the taxi felt more like teamwork than a fight.  The man smiled and we jumped into his car.  Their were white lanes painted on the road, indicating where cars should go, and unlike our taxi ride this morning, our driver spent most of the time in his lane.  A sidewalk on the side of the road was clean and clear, I imagined that people walk down the road without ever wondering if they are going to step in red paan (chewing tobacco) spit or cow manure.  An evening walk could help you unwind, not get wound up.  We approached a red light and our driver stopped.  This is weird! And then another car pulled up behind us and left us 10 or 12 feet of room.  Space.  Order. Logic.  Reason.  No cows.  Very few people on the streets.  I thought I was back home in the States.  We continued our drive and the out of body experience continued.  There were no potholes, no unnecessary speed bumps every 30 or 40 meters.  Quiet and peaceful.

I guess I should have guessed things would be different a couple hours earlier when I boarded our Thai Airways flight from Delhi to Bangkok.  The plane was just a little bit different, bright pink and purple seats, airplane attendants in a different style of dress.  When our plane landed it was warm and humid, a stark contrast to the cloudy and cold days we’ve had lately in Northern India.  We entered the terminal and were hit by a wall of cold air, hmm, air conditioning.  A free public wifi service actually had a signal, and content on my phone (mail and Instagram) actually uploaded.  The bathrooms were stocked with complimentary toilet paper (strange I know) and we ordered Dairy Queen desserts from a lady named Mook.

Our time in India was great.  I already miss it.  But I didn’t realize how truly unique that place is until I left.  I’ve only been gone for ten hours or so, but I already miss the chaos, the hordes of people, the chai shops, the bicycle rickshaws, the utter confusion, the holy men, the wandering cows, the rickshaw drivers who always try to rip you off.  It’s natural to be fond of the difficult times in your life, the times that really push you to the limit.  That was definitely India.  Sitting on the limit, never sure which way you would fall.

Our last night in India was spent with two of Katy’s work friends from Google.  We took a quick tour of the building (gym, fitness room, room to take a nap, massage room, micro kitchen complete with snacks, cafeteria – all the typical basics you would expect from a company).  After our visit we went to dinner in Cyber City in Gurgaon.  It is arguably one of the fastest growing areas in India.  Ten years ago it was basically farm land, but today it is multiple high rise residential buildings, the offices of many international companies and a slew of American chains – KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dominos and then some others like Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Red Mango, Dunkin Donuts.  It feels very European and none of it existed ten years ago.  Most people see it as tremendous progress and development, which it surely is, but it is also sad (I think) to believe that progress is synonymous with the introduction of a bunch of American food chains.  No one wants to travel around the world to go to Starbucks in the morning, have KFC for lunch and look for a pizza delivery place for dinner.  What is so great about India is that part of India that will never change. 

(warning – Clayton’s rambling ahead)

For better or worse, the vast majority of the 1.2 billion people that is India, will never change.  It will still be chai-wallahs and samosa chaat on the street.  It will still be a rickshaw driver who assumes I have tons of money (cause I do) and it will still be gritty, real and authentic India.  Lives will still be defined by the caste system, marriages will still be arranged by parents.  It’s a different reality, one that is hard for me to wrap my head around, but it is India.  Most people in India have very few options of what type of life they will live – they’ll do the type of work their parents did and they’ll marry who their parents suggest.

Walking home from dinner in India I’m confronted with numerous people sleeping on the side of the street, on top of a piece of cardboard and under a single blanket – a guy who sleeps next to his bicycle rickshaw, all of his world possessions in the world right there in front of him.  If he works all day he might make a couple bucks, enough to have chai with his friends, a meal or two, chew some tobacco and find a nice spot of ground to sleep on before waking it up and doing it all again in the morning.  I’ll stop and reflect on my own life.  Then I’ll look back at his life.  I’ll grapple with the ideas of fairness, gratitude, poverty and suffering.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between poverty and suffering.  Much of India is poor, very poor.  But poor by Western standards.  They appear happy and healthy and are doing well.  They are vibrant, they smile and are full of energy.  It’s a tough life, no doubt, but one they’ve been living for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, I’m not sure that just because I have arrived in India, their life is suddenly “unfortunate” or “miserable” or “sad”.  It’s unfair for me to project that onto them. 

Many people, myself included, will travel to a place like India and then leave with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that our life is “not as bad as theirs”, that we are “so blessed” and that we have “so much.” (We then quickly return to our boring neighborhoods where nothing interesting in a thousand years will ever happen.)  I don’t like this idea.  What is “so much?”  A nice car?  Lots of student loans?  Enough money to travel?  A cabin?  A closet full of shoes?  A basement full of bikes?  A sailboat in the garage?  Three or four pairs of skis?  It’s easy to think that we are “better off” because we have lots of stuff.  Yes and no.  No doubt, money solves a lot of problems.  It provides food, shelter and access to health care – not something that everyone has.  But money doesn’t necessarily get us anything really meaningful – relationships with family or friends, fulfillment from work, devotion to God, a positive attitude.  India may not have a lot of money, sure, but they seem to be doing pretty well in these other areas.  They work hard, have families and make religion a central part of their life.  That guy sleeping on the cardboard box may not have a lot of the things I take for granted, but tomorrow morning when he goes to work, I’ll be he’s got a smile on his face.  And when our time on Earth ends he’ll be able to take that smile with him and all of “my stuff” will just be stuff.

PS: Apologies for slow and inconsistent writing as of late (or maybe you are happy to have less SPAM in your inbox).  I’ve started writing a book (about this trip) and it turns out this endeavor is 1) very time consuming and 2) extremely difficult.

Agra > Vrindavan > Palwal > Gurgaon 280 km

From the rooftop terrace of the Ishan Hotel, in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India there are many sights and sounds to observe.  To the north are the foothills of the Himalayas, with dark clouds tumbling down from above threatening rain and stormy weather.  It’s not the rainy season, here on the Subcontinent, but when you’re in India all bets are off.  The Himalayas will begin here and then wind and weave hundreds of kilometers until cut up and through the sky with their magnificent 8,000 meter peaks before arriving at the vast, barren 5,000 meter plateau of Tibet.

To my east is the Laxman Jhula, a cable suspension bridge that crosses the Ganga River (Ganges River).  The bridge carries every type of traffic, donkeys loaded with supplies, motorbikes, domestic and foreign tourists, touts hoping to snap a picture and make a buck, the wayward cow, sadhus (the holy men) in their orange robes, shoeless kids selling flowers in paper boats with candles to those hoping to send some Karma down the river.  Monkeys traipse and swing on the suspension lines, stealing glasses from foreigners and taking a cracker from a kind local.  On the opposite bank of the river is a nine story orange building with bizarre steeples at the top with the words YOGA TRAINING CENTER plastered across the front.  When you come to the yoga capital of the world, you better be ready to slow down, focus on your breath and forget your body.  Because as we were told last night, your body is a block, it is not real, your body will die and disintegrate and you will still be here, focus on your breath, when you focus on your breath your body will disappear, your body causes you suffering, your body is a block.

To the west is a small square, with a large statue of Shiva looking down on a busy man, sending stalks of cane through a diesel powered engine, producing juice for a handful of guests who sit in plastic chairs in the middle of the road.  Beside him, his son uses the same stalks of cane to smack the holy cows that are looking for a free meal.  The horn of the motorbike tells pedestrians to move over or risk losing an elbow.  Chanting is heard in the distance.  It seems chanting can always be heard in the distance.

When the metal roof above my head starts thundering and the screech of dying children is heard, my heart skips a beat, but then I relax.  It’s just the monkeys.  It’s just the monkeys.  Many animals bicker and quarrel here in India, but only the monkeys make such a crazy inhumane screech that you worry if someone, someone innocent, has lost their life.

This morning we took a small hike up to a waterfall, a couple hundred meters above and 3km upriver from town.  The sun was out, sweat dripped down my face, I grabbed two large rocks for the journey up to do some exercises to start reversing the upper body atrophy that has occurred over the last couple months.  I think I’ve lost 20 pounds since we’ve left, and it hasn’t all been love handles, gut or butt.

India is a unique place, one I may never figure out, but I’ll definitely keep coming back.  In the past month we have cycled just about 1,600 kilometers, or 1,000 miles, in Nepal and India, and it has been a wild ride.  It wasn’t until southern Nepal we met kids who had never heard of McDonalds.  It wasn’t until India that we were brought into local schools and asked to teach Physics or English.  It wasn’t until India that when we tried to pay for food or tea our payment was refused because we were a guest in their country. It’s also the only country where I had to put on headphones to listen to Phish to prevent myself from kicking the many motorcyclists off their bike as they harangued me with a dozen questions.  It’s the only country where we often got off our bike and walked because traffic and road conditions were so horrible.  It’s the only country where you ride down the highway and expect trees in the road, lots of oncoming traffic in the wrong lane, dozens of requests for photos, speed bumps galore and a million smiling faces also exclaiming the exact same thing; ooh, lovely double cycle, very nice.  It was the country we were the most excited to get to, the one we, at times, were the most excited to leave, and I suspect it will be the hardest to leave when we get on a plane in six days.

In the past week we’ve been at the Taj Mahal (rather lovely), chanted with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Vrindavan, and found a grocery store that sells things like blueberry muffins, salsa and almond milk.  MIRACLE.

In six days we are off to Vientiane, Laos where our journey will resume (after a visit from my parents) cycling through the hills of Northern Laos and then Thailand and hopefully Malaysia and maybe we will get down to Singapore.

Happy New Year, y’all.

Taj.
Taj.
The Taj Mahal - built out of love.
The Taj Mahal – built out of love.
Fatephur Sikri
Taj Gate
Cold. Really cold.
Cold. Really cold.
Roadlife.
Roadlife.
India.
India.
Fog.
Fog at MVT (mom and dad).
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare
Krishna and Radha
Krishna and Radha
Rishikesh.
Rishikesh.
Muesli for Men.
Muesli for Men.
The pains of authorship.
The pains of authorship.
Getting ready for the plane.
Getting ready for the plane.
Tandem meets Elevator.
Tandem meets Elevator.