February 28, 2009

What's a Canvan, you ask?


We've been having great experiences and not so great experiences in the last week, but a couple stick out in my mind.....

We were in Agra on Feb. 21 and 22, and those two days emerged as a patch of light in our travels. The time in Agra began luckily, with an autorickshaw driver picking us up outside the train station, and unlike any other auto driver we have met so far gave us a fair price without trying to rip us off. Pradeep is his name, and he turned out to one of the warmest, most open hearted people we have ever met:) He drove us around for these two days, pointing out places we would like to see, warning us of scams that might happen, and finally, inviting us to dinner with his family the night before we left. And his family was just an extension of him, open, inviting, generous, and his daughter and daughter in law gave me Hina on my hands and dressed me up Indian style:) Of course, while in Agra, we saw beautiful things, the sunset on the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikre (a ghost town that used to be the capital of India, but was abandoned for lack of water), but those moments of human generosity stick out the most. After constantly having to watch out for people trying to scam us somehow, it was a refreshing couple of days to be treated so warmly and happily, and our time in Agra passed pleasantly.

Had a wonderfully Indian day on Feb. 24. A long 24 hours, and as we've come to expect here, full of ups and downs...

The day started after our first night train, which had surprisingly comfortable berths. I don't know if it was the rocking of the train or exhaustion from travelling, but I slept like a baby and the 8 hour train ride from Jhansi to Khandwa went by in the blink of an eye. So, we arrived to Khandwa, a city about 100 km from the town we actually wanted to see. We tried to get a taxi at the train station to get us to where we wanted to go, a pretty mountain town called Mandu, but were not given a cheap, fair price by anyone, so we decided to brave taking a bus. After the usual haggling over price, we finally settled on a fair amount and set off, thus starting a long day filled with travelling, heat, bargaining for a good price, and me and my stomach fighting off the effects of the day before deciding that it was ok to drink that glass of fresh orange juice that most likely included a healthy amount of tap water (not recommended, no matter how "Western" the restaurant seems!!). The bus ride was not too bad, about 2 hours, going through little Indian towns with some really pretty landscapes. We arrived to the town that the bus agreed to take us to, Omkareshwar, a weird little pilgramage town on the banks of a river, with a huge chaotic, dirt parking lot being used as a bus station. There were so many Indians there making pilgramages to this little town, but we were definitely the only foreigners at that place. We then had to look for another ride to get to Mandu, and after asking tons of people and getting directed to five different corners of the parking lot, we found a vehicle to take us, and I use the word vehicle because I'm not sure what to call it exactly. If a minivan and an aluminum can had a baby, this is what the baby would look like, so it shall now be referred to as the canvan....and with it began the bumpiest ride of my life up to the top of the mountain. Seriously, the bumpiest ride ever, due to bad roads and the canvan's apparent dislike and refusal to use any sort of suspension system.

So, on the bumpiest ride possible, in the canvan, with loud music playing with the driver and his friend talking loudly in the the front seat, and as those of you who know me will not be shocked to hear..I got something in my eye. And a big something that caused burning and tears and just wouldn't get out.

So, there I was, with all of my senses on overload because of the myriad smells that were wafting in when we passed by frying food, bus exhaust pipes, public restrooms, cows, and the loud Hindi music playing with the driver and his friend talking over it, the heat, the wind blowing in through the open windows (no AC), and every muscle in my body tensed trying to keep everything in that's supposed to be in (ie: myself in the vehicle, last night's dinner in my stomach) and get everything out of me that's supposed to be out (ie: the dirt in my eye, the exhaust from passing traffic from my lungs), holding on for dear life as we pass over the worst roads ever. At this point, I begin silently cursing Sergio for bringing me here, as it was his plan (couldn't he have just taken me to see the Taj Mahal like everybody else??) , and just when I started thinking that on the next big bump, I may give myself a little boost to actually propel myself out of the vehicle and out of this ride because I just couldn't take it anymore!!...something happened. We arrived to our destination, my eye cleared up, I took a fresh breath of mountain air and looked around. And realized, that once again, as is the case with most things that Sergio insists on us seeing, it was all worth it.

First, we went to see a tomb of an old ruler, pretty and peaceful. We then went to the Royal Enclave, a huge area of ruins that was said to be used for a ruler and his harem (of 15,000 women!) , and it was beautiful! Such intricate architecture, such beautiful decorations, and all of it still exising now, thousands of years later. Then, we went farther up the mountain to a place called Rupmati's Pavilion that provided one of the most spectacularly breathtaking views of the valley below that I've ever seen. The sun was setting , the colors were vibrant and the land went on for miles. It was beautiful. Then we got back into our canvan and started the long journey back down as the sun set behind the mountains. As I looked out the dirty window at one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen, becoming airborne with every big bump in the road, with the blasting Hindi music in the background, and the sweet smell of pollution filling my lungs once again, I realized that ride, that moment was the perfect metaphor for India. Chaotic, dirty, full of bumpy roads and scary turns, but if you're able to look through all of it , or perhaps look despite all of it, you find awe-inspiring, unique spiritual beauty.

Unfortunately, just as we were taking a breath of relief that the day was over, India threw us another curve ball--our vehicle broke down. Our dear canvan started leaking oil and just stopped working, perhaps in protest of the bumpy roads we had subjected him to all day long. We sat for about 30 minutes waiting for someone to come along and help us. Then a little pickup truck stopped and they decided to try to tie the two vehicles together with a little string of rope and pull us the 60km that were left to get back to town, on really bumpy roads. It didn't work, but as we were stopped for the 30th time, trying to tie the two vehicles back together, a bus passed that just happened to be going where we wanted to go!! We happily said goodbye to our driver and the canvan, and boarded the bus and promptly fell asleep, only to wake up about two hours later to the driver telling us that this was the last stop and now it's time to get out and catch the bus that would take us where we wanted to go. Turns out, they weren't at all going to the place they said, and we actually ended up another 30km in the opposite direction. Basically, they took our money, and drove us around until the end of their route. So, we got ANOTHER bus that promised us to be going where we wanted to go, and after three hours of windy roads with a driver who seemed to think he was part of the Formula One, we finally, finally arrived at our destination, ready to catch another train. A long day, but fabulously Indian in its course:)

Currently, we are in Daman, an old Portguese colony and it's a really pretty little town. We're off to catch a train in 2 hours, and have started our calmer portion of the trip, the next few days will be spent near the beach, in a more laid back part of India. As a friend we met along the way told us the other day, we've been travelling in "hard" India until now, so we're welcoming the change of pace!

I put up a few pics from London, still have to sort out the thousands of other ones we've taken...

Sending love from India...


  1. Aproveitem esta passagem para a «soft» India para recarregarem baterias!!!

    É um prazer enorme ler os vossos relatos.

  2. Hey kids!! :)

    I feel so happy for u each time I read your posts... And, I must say, I envy u soooooo much...

    It really is a life time dream coming true, being able to see and live such a different life... You take notes of everything, so I can have your plan when I follow your steps!!! :D

    I'm in Santiago now, I just saw your note, I’m sooooo looking forward to May... (I still can’t believe u are REALLY getting married!!) I'm glad you guys enjoyed my second city.

    I wanna see your photos dressed as an Indian!! Post them!!

    Big kiss from big sis :)

    P.S.: Everybody is asking for u, cousins, grandmother, friends... Kisses from everyone and I’ll feel free to give them back!

  3. By the way, just saw both Slumdog Millionaire (AMAZING!!!) and The Darjeeling Limited (Adrien Brody almost looking handsome), and I was almost seeing your faces on the movie!! :D

    Take care* * *

  4. Serjão, desde que saíste que a tua equipa só perde! Ehehehe!
    Um abraço grande para os dois, aproveitem cada momento!

  5. (O Pacheco sou eu, Gui, ehehe)