Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I am home.

I miss autorickshaws and bow-tied waiters serving me $3 meals, but Jen is here and everything is clean.

More catch-up posts to come.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rishikesh II

Catch-up post: Rishikesh, last Thursday (Aug 17)

It's our second (and, regrettably, last) day in Rishikesh, and we're hiking up a mountain trail toward the waterfall pool we've been promised. It's brutally hot, and the altitude doesn't make the climb much smoother. The first bit is the worst. The hiking is easier than higher up, but we don't have the shade cover we'll get later on. Meg is getting heat stroke so I get to rest when she does, exploiting her misfortune to cover up any trouble I'm having.

We reach the pool and it's beautiful. A handful of tourists and local kids are there, and we hang out for a while. Ryan and Dan jump into waist deep water from way too high, but miraculously don't hurt themselves.

We keep going, heading for the second pool. The climb is much nicer now in the shade. The second pool is as cool as the first, but not really any cooler. We notice, though, that at the top of the waterfall feeding our pool there seems to be a bit of a plateau. Ryan does some exploring and finds a route. It involves some minor rock climbing and using a tree trunk to swing from one ledge to another, but the top is worth it.

On top of the feeling of accomplishment and discovery, the view is great and the pool is so deep we can't touch the bottom. It's small, but there are rocks for sunbathing, enough room to swim around a bit, and there's not that much danger of slipping over the waterfall to your death in the pool below.

Sam, Ryan, Dan and I explore a cave we find nearby. In the inner cavern there's a crack about 1ft wide that I can sort of lodge myself in to poke my head out the other side. It leads to small area behind the waterfall, about 10m above our upper pool. I decide to try and climb through, but after some squirming I give up. Sam, however, seems to be somehow skinnier than I am and just makes it. He watched The Descent right before we left, but he's not scared. We take pictures, but they're on Dan's camera, so I can't post them.

We keep pushing further up the hill. Dan did the waterfalls yesterday with some Israelis he met, but they bailed on him before he could get up to the village rumoured to be at the top of the mountain. The first signs of civilization were some small rice paddies in the stair-step irrigation style, maybe 20m long. Then a religious statue with a place for offerings. And then.

And then we see this. The path becomes the top of one of the irrigation plateaus, and we walk along, gaping at the scene. It's getting late in the day, and we don't want to be caught by darkness on the way back down, so we decide that we'll only go as far as the bridge up ahead, maybe a little way up the slope past it to grab some pictures of the valley.

Ryan hangs back to get some pictures as the four of us continue. On the path almost at the bridge is this huge old tree. The scene is perfect - the bridge, the tree, the rice, the mountains, the sinking sun - and then we hear a rustiling above. Seconds later, a massive black-faced monkey drops to the ground a few metres from us, and takes off into the woods. I figure I might have him by 10 pounds or so but he seems pretty agile.

Our group tightens as the rustling resumes above. The tree drops two more monkeys beside us, who also take to the forest after giving us a good stare-down. I realize that I'm swearing a lot. More monkeys. They come tearing down the tree, 50 ft in 6 branches, 5 branches, all thudding to the ground and making off into the forest.

There is a pause. I swear again, this time for not taking a picture. We decide we should probably make a break for the bridge during this lull, and escape to safety. A woman and her child have been watching us from a little way off, but they don't seem too worried. I realize this is probably much like the elephant situation in Haridwar.

But she wasn't underneath the deadly black-faced monkey tree. That shit is scary.

On our way back down the mountain, we run into a dozen or so villagers making their way home. One older guy we meet fairly early on, near the top, stops me to tell me something, but his English is terrible and my Hindi is worse. "Queen," he says, as he motions to Meg, who he passed a few seconds before.

"Village," he adds, motioning up the mountain to where we came from. I don't know where he's going with this yet, but I caught this word, so I explain to him that yes we were just up near the village and it was very beautiful and does he live there.

"Queen," he repeats, and pulls the flaps of his garment together, gesturing up and down his body. I then remember that since the pool Meg has been hiking in a two-piece bathing suit, and that this is probably not standard hillside attire.

As we continue on our way, Ryan and I discuss what the likely Western equivalent would be of Meg's scandalous stroll into the Himalayan village. We put it at somewhere between walking down the street naked and walking down the street naked with an erection. Meg puts her dress on.

Wandering in McLeod Ganj

(real-time post)

We're in McLeod Ganj now, in upper Dharamsala. Meg has gone home, and our second run at Delhi (better), the new SRK/AB Jr&Sr/Mukherjee/Zinta picture (scandalous), and the dangerous monkeys (dangerous) are all behind us. I have a head cold.

3:45pm. Ryan and Sam are napping, so I leave them a note and set off on an aimless journey through the montain town. We're up around 1500m here, and so far we've been sitting in a cloud for most of the time. It makes the temperature nice but it adds to the sense of isolation that lingers in this relaxed Tibetan refugee community. Or maybe it's just me.

I want to be alone so I've brought my mp3 player. I stick it on shuffle and it selects "This Place is a Prison" -- almost too ironic to let play, but it kind of fits my mood so I accept. I've never travelled for this long before. After a few weeks you get used to the transience, and the homelessness starts to feel like home.

I pass by shops and street hawkers, but no one bothers me with my headphones on (I haven't tried this trick before, but I like it). I reject two suggestions, Peter Elkas and Louis Armstrong, before accepting "Sit Down/Stand Up". I can't tell if I'm homesick or not. Maybe I'm just sick and a little ornery. Maybe I shouldn't listen to brooding music.

I'm enjoying the stroll but I just want to sit somewhere peaceful. I find a bench up a short road overlooking the valley as "Hyperballad" warms up. In the future, music devices will be able to read our minds and provide uncannily suitable music all of the time, not just in improbable bubbles of mathematical chance like this one.

I watch a building being built a hundred metres down the mountain. I realize that I'm starting to write this blog entry in my head, which is unsettling. I make a mental note to avoid making real-world decisions for the sole purpose of enhancing my blog, since I can always lie anyway.

I stop worrying about my soundtrack and allow a Matt Mays track and the Beatles' "Yer Blues" to play through. I take a few pictures, and remember that I have to call American Airlines again to get a straight answer about carrying-on two dozen rolls of exposed film.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rishikesh I

Catch-up post: Rishikesh, last Wednesday (Aug 16)

We arrive in Rishikesh and sign into our hotel. It's around $100 for the 4 of us, which is a fair bit in India, but we're only going to be here for a couple of days and it's a nice place (the Aussies, who we meet later, have their jaws on the floor when they see it; they have a modest but perfectly acceptable place they're sharing that works out to $6/person).

We go out and grab some lunch at another hotel's restaurant that was recommended to us. In a schizophrenic fit of adventurousness and craving, Sam orders "Ice Cream Noodles". It's really interesting to see your culture's cuisine butchered to the point of parody after having done the same to other cultures your whole life. "Ice Cream Noodles" is a water glass filled with spaghetti noodles and mostly-melted strawberry ice cream. It's every bit as terrible as it sounds, but still commend Sam for his conqueror's spirit.

There are monkeys waiting for us outside when we're finished, but these still aren't the dangerous monkeys. Those monkeys come later.

Sam, Meg and I check out some shops while Ryan is in an internet cafe down the street. We figure it's about time we picked him up but by the time I get to the internet cafe he's not there and these huge drops of rain are intermittently plummeting to the ground and exploding. The rain is no longer intermittent when I reach the shop, and the three of us go out on a balcony behind the store, overlooking a 50m drop down to the shore of the ganges, to watch the rainbows.

On the next balcony, around a wall, are two aussies, Mike and Dan. We make friends and end up hanging out with them for the next couple of days. Dan, who we meet first, is an animation grad. He's researching for a project he's been working on for a while about the Silk Route, the ancient network of trade routes crisscrossing southern and central Asia. It sounds like an interesting project, a kind of avant-garde fiction rich with historical fact that borrows formally from the drawing and animation styles of ancient and contemporary cultures in the region. Maybe he will add a comment to this blog entry with some more info and links to his other work (are you reading this Dan?).

Dan promises to take us up to this mountain waterfall tomorrow, which sounds like it might be cool. Little do I know, it totally is.

The Road to Rishikesh

I added some pictures to previous posts... check it out. Also, should be back up again - can someone email me if it goes down again?

Catch-up entry: Haridwar to Rishikesh, last Wednesday (Aug 16)

The jeep we booked through Sanjeev is an hour early, and I wonder if Haridwar spans three time zones. We're already awake, but we haven't eaten, so we buy the driver breakfast at the hotel restaurant. He seems sort of uncomfortable; I have no idea what the socio-cultural implications of our gesture are.

We settle up the bill and get in the car. I'm feeling good. I've finally learned to trust people again after a few days away from Delhi, and I'm starting to get excited about Rishikesh.

Despite its small size, Haridwar is still in India, so the roads are flooded with blasting horns. Ours turns out to be a bopping minor third riff that I can't help hearing as the chorus from Le Tigre's "On the Verge". Sam hears Eminem's "Lose Yourself" but that's kind of a stretch because the horn starts partway through the phrase (Le Tigre is a perfect match). A Hindi cover of Blue's "One Love" comes on the radio, and is by some twist of fate perfectly in tune with our horn. We roll along, layering on the techno beats.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Elephant Story I Promised

Catch-up entry: Haridwar, last Tuesday (Aug 15).

We read in the Lonely Planet about this tour place called Mohan's Adventure Tours. It sounds pretty good, and there's a great national park nearby with Tigers, Leopards, Deer, and a whole bunch of other stuff. In peak season you can also ride one of two elephants, but that's not til the winter and most of the park is actually closed right now.

So we go in the morning and set up a tour for 2:30. Sanjeev doesn't actually show until 3:30 (miscommunication?) but it gives us time to have lunch. We pile into this jeep-like thing and set off down the road, chatting to Sanjeev while the questionable driver mashes the pedals and dodges rickshaws, motorcyles, pedestrians, cows. Turns out Sanjeev used to be a rally car racer, and also does all kinds of nature photography and documentaries, even some music video and feature film location scouting/booking/logistics. We talk and talk.

We get out of town a little ways, toward the park, and come across some monkeys, which are cute (these monkeys are not threatening; a few days later we will meet some that are). We stop (violently) to take pictures.

We get into the park area and pull up by the park ranger's place. There are a couple of staff and they guy that runs the place. Sanjeev has to talk to them for a minute. They're talking, and we're standing, and it crosses my mind that (1) the park is supposed to be closed at this time of year and that (2) bringing cameras is supposed to incur an additional charge.

This is when I begin to realize that Sanjeev Mehta is a serious pimp. We enter.

We trek along for a while, passing an outlandish number of cannabis plants (this is the Himalayas, where it all started), and come out into a developed garden area. We're told this is the park's nursery. A baby elephant is grazing there. I think Sanjeev said it was 5 years old, but it was still a good 5 or 6 feet tall. It was left behind by the herd a few years ago, and Sanjeev has been taking care of it since then, getting it ready for its release back into the wild.

It has a chain around its foot, which I realize later in a brief moment of worry (as it mysteriously trots towards me) is only attached to a small weight. As it starts to munch on some bamboo, a gardener cries out in protest. Apparently Sanjeev has rented out this governmental park nursery for his elephant, and from the looks of things the gardener's words are a tired, futile last effort at preservation.

The elephant is cute for a while and then we leave.

On our way back we stop at a bridge for the main event, as much an absurd human comedy as a wildlife safari. Every night, a pair of elephants crosses this road bridge to return to their sleeping grounds after grazing. Sanjeev asks a local if they have been by yet. They haven't, so we wait. Sure enough, we can soon make out a large ear hiding behind some brush on the opposite side of the bridge. The scene is set.

Enter four guys on two motorcycles, speeding around the bend. They don't notice a local motioning for them to stop, and they continue across the bridge. As they reach the curve at the other side, they skid to a halt. One of the passengers falls off. They scramble to turn the bikes around (or, in the unfortunate passenger's case, chase after his friends and remount), and tear back across the bridge, swearing at what is now a small crowd of amused onlookers for not warning them.

This is repeated with a car and two large trucks. One of the trucks stays parked at the far end of the bridge, hoping that the elephants will leave or pass. Sanjeev intervenes, explaining to the driver that the elephants will deposit him and his cargo into the waiting river without much trouble.

Elephants are really, really big.

The crowd manages to get traffic under control as the elephants slowly make their trek. Sanjeev keeps an eye on our position, making sure we don't get too close. After they are gone, he tells us a story:

A few years ago, his brother's friend (we'll call him Vladimir) was in town and really wanted to go check out the elephants. Sanjeev was busy and didn't want to take him, but Vladimir persisted. So Sanjeev buckled and agreed to take him, and they trapsed off into the forest with tripod and XL1 in tow. As they were setting up, Sanjeev began to feel uncomfortable and, knowing that his instincts are never wrong, carefully scanned their surroundings.

He found the elephants they'd been looking for. A group half a dozen strong had them surrounded, staked out from about a hundred metres away in each direction (apparently this is, for an elephant, a stakeout). The pair made break for it, but by the time they had cleared the distance to the edge of the brush by the water, one elephant was already on their original position, trumpeting and stamping the ground.

It approched them. Sanjeev was mortally terrified, but Vladimir was worse. Both men tried to stay perfectly still - elephants have poor eyesight and it's difficult for them to make out shapes without motion.

But Vladimir, in his foresting inexperience, wasn't quite still enough. The elephant charged and gored him in seconds. Sanjeev remained perfectly still. Soon, the elephant charged off to bring his friends along. Knowing he would soon return, Sanjeev grabbed his camera and bolted.

He came to a road, on which a close friend of Sanjeev's happened to be passing. This friend also happened to be a judge or a high-ranking politician or something. Sanjeev's friend alerted authorities, and assured them that Sanjeev was trustworthy and that there had been no foul play. Sanjeev and the police drove down in a jeep and used drums and horns to scare away the elephants, but they found Vladimir quite dead.

Later, Vladimir's grandmother told Sanjeev a story. She knew more of the Hindu details than I remember and can reproduce here. A small, beautiful bird was chilling at the gates of heaven. Another animal, one of the god's chariots, was looking on. Gods kept entering and remarking on the bird's beauty, but the Death God didn't happen to notice the bird, which is lucky since one glance from him dooms you to death.

The other animal (let's say he's a winged poodle) thinks maybe he should help the bird out and move him to safety, lest the death god see him when he re-emerges from his meeting in heaven. So the winged poodle drops the bird in a nice tree a few kilometers away. The death god comes out, and of course can't see the bird. But, as luck would have it, the bird died some other way in the tree a kilometer away.

When you're fated, you're fated. And sometimes you need a steward to bring you to the place where you're supposed to die.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Too Much to Write About

I can't keep up. Haridwar continued to be great.

We hooked up with a tour guide (who also turned out to be a documentary filmmaker, does all kinds of stuff for Discovery, BBC, etc) named Sanjeev from Mohan's Adventure Tours. There's a whole story about elephants and a traffic bridge, more on that later.

Rishikesh is even better than Haridwar. We ran into these two Australian guys, Mike and Dan. We went hiking in the mountains today and found a handful of waterfalls and a little cave. The rock here is all eroded and uneven and perfect for climbing. seems to have exceeded its bandwidth, I'm trying to get that fixed. Check back later today or tomorrow.

Must eat, more to come.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Few Days in India

So we've been off on our own now for a couple of days.

Delhi is fascinating but tiring. Everything seems like a struggle, and my dreams are haunted by hordes of baying rickshaw drivers, beggars, shopkeepers. The intensity can be fun (there's nothing more fun and terrifying than an autorickshaw), but it gets overwhelming. I like watching what translation does to pop culture. Sitting in the hotel room watching MTV India. Biting into a McVeggie in a packed, beefless McDonalds while "Papa Don't Preach" works its way out of the small speakers and around the room.

Our bed space at the wonderful Shangri-La hotel keeps shrinking. MS hooked us up with an extra day (you know who you are, best ADE in the world), and we splurged on the fourth. We started with 4 rooms and 4 kings; 2 sleepers per king for the extra MS day; and finally a cozy 4 the night before we caught our early morning train to Haridwar. The Shangri-La is a strange island of wealth (and expense). A club sandwich is about $12 CDN, and internet is $10/hr. Our 4-hour train ride from Delhi to Haridwar was $8, and I'm writing now for $1/hr. But they had nice showers.

Haridwar is good. It's less tiring. No one hassles you in the market, and all it takes is a quick shake of the head to ward off rickshaw drivers. Also, being a holy Hindu city, it's entirely vegetarian (I love this country). Meg is still getting oogled all over the place. We were walking down by the banks of the ganges, in town where stone steps allow for bathing. I was walking 15m behind her, watching people crane their necks as she passed, awkwardly bumping into things as they walked with their heads twisted around. One man, accompanied by a woman who seemed to be his wife, had no qualms about following Meg with a long, longing look after they passed.

We're going to head up to Rishikesh tomorrow. It's supposed to a fair bit more touristy than Haridwar, so hopefully that means "tourism is embraced" instead of "tourists get screwed". We'll see.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Trevor Watson Story

Got the 36-hour film challenge piece up online - check out The Trevor Watson Story here.

The deal was you had to make a creative documentary (they were open to just about anything) about the Imagine Cup experience. Extra points for (1) including some nod toward the theme of the contest, which was health, (2) representing all of the different competitions (software design, algorithm, IT, short film, etc.) and (3) involving India in some way.

We decided to keep things close to home, and followed the Canadian Algorithm competitor, Trevor Watson. He ran into a whole bunch of problems, mostly stemming from Microsoft's closed-mindedness and refusal to make adequate preparations for his... condition. We thought his story should reach the world.

Umm, so we just won

Seriously, we just won first at the Imagine Cup and got a giant $8,000 cheque. Unfortunately, Sam is still back at the hotel with a bad fever so he missed the awards ceremony. But at least he still gets money, and hopefully he'll be feeling well enough to party tonight.

We still don't have the on-site 36-hour film up, but hopefully we'll get that done soon. I left one rendering and set to automatically upload before we went to bed, but I think the company they were leasing the equipment from packed everything up before it finished. Word on the street was they were going to give us the contents of the drives on DVD but I'm skeptical. Anyway, keep an eye out for it, hopefully we can post it tonight.

As for a recap on what's been happening...

The 36-hour challenge was really intense, what with the lack of sleep for days beforehand. We batted ideas around for a few hours before coming up with the box concept (based, of course, on "Four Sides Perpendicular to the Base" by Ryan Marr, starring Graham Beasley). We grabbed a good night's sleep and then went back at it. We had a whole bunch of computer problems (system out of commission for more than 3 hours), but the judges were great about giving us some extra time.

I'm getting kicked out of the press room now (the only place with internet access!), more to come later.

P.S. Some more pics for you: Ryan at the hotel in Agra at the cultural night thingy, the team at the Taj Mahal (just as crazy awesome as it's supposed to me), and my gorgeous king-bedded, flat-panel-LCD'd, shower-windowed hotel room in Delhi (Microsoft maintains their unflinching position as mothafuckin P.I.M.P.s)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Quick Update

Just a quick post, internet is expensive here. We're now in Delhi in the most beautiful hotel I've ever seen. The 36-hour film challenge was intense but we squeezed through, I'm hoping to get it up on soon. Tomorrow we find out the winners...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

36 Hours of Fun

We made it. 36 hours ago I left my house for the Robert Q, and we've finally arrived at our place in Agra. I think I've seen 3 sunrises since then, flying against the sun... but I don't really remember. We have to start the competition in a couple hours, so we'll try to grab some sleep before then.

The flights were scary. Our YYZ-O'Hare was delayed by 3 hours and we just barely made our connection to Delhi. But we got on ok.

In related news, American Airlines is a bunch of assholes. There was this Indian family, two parents and three young children, in the row ahead of us on our 13-hour O'Hare-Delhi flight. At any given time at least one of the kids was fussing, and one had a particularly piercing shriek that he would let out more or less on a whim every half our or so (there was something satisfying about the controlled power). They were kind of annoying, but kids will be kids, and kids will be on airplanes, and you will be on airplanes with kids. You deal.

Apparently the flight attendants didn't agree. They also didn't seem to understand their status as representatives of American Airlines, not a bunch of random passengers who might be justified in (or at least excused for) running their mouth. One stewardess passes by and, in an ambiguously humourous tone, says to the baby, "Put a cork in it," which she follows up with a sincere, "He's terrible" to the mother.

Shortly after, a male flight attendant comes up the other aisle, near the husband. He loudly announces, "I'm sorry, but that kid has been screaming the entire flight. Normal kids," he continues in his not-too-over-the-top valley boy intonation that's not flamboyant but is very confrontational, "don't cry that much. You have to do something about him." The husband is understandably offended, and they exchange words that I can't hear. The flight attendant begins to move up the aisle, shouting back over his shoulder: "I'm allowed to express my opinion and if you don't like it well then that's too bad. If you don't want to hear my opinion don't talk to me." The father explains in broken English that it wasn't him who initiated this whole mess, to which the attendant responds, "There! You're talking to me again!"

I share a disgusted look with Sam and go back to my Thom Yorke (fuck that album's good) and The Time Traveller's Wife (thanks Will, great stuff so far).

Oh, and they forgot to serve us our promised after-breakfast snack.

But I did watch the Inside Man, which was quite good.

The ride to Agra from the Delhi Airport was intense, I'll write about it more later. This is a crazy place.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Robert Q

Just about to head off and catch the shuttle to YYZ. This is all very weird, it hasn't really registered yet. Maybe once I feel the heat. Updated Oh and that A-Channel interview is up on in the extras section. They were nice people, but I think their editors were still a little drunk from the night before.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

3 Days Left

We've got our visas, the forms are off to Daniel, and I found my passport. Well, I found it, then lost it again, then found it again. Now it's safe. But I'll probably forget it at home.

Ryan and I are working on this cookbook thing, it has to be done tonight, so no parting funk night for me I don't think.

Oh, we're going to be on A-Channel tomorrow morning at 8:15. Check it out.