Monday, April 14, 2008

Chal-oh Chal-oh Pak-i-stan!

Welcome back to Phases Crossed. Your faith, in returning to this website, hoping that our adventure might continue documenting itself, is appreciated. If only it would document itself. That would be nice. But we need to do things. We need to continue our search for Bin Laden. And we think, just maybe, the answer is camels. We think this is true because of messages from you, our expertly opinionated audience.


We have received many emails from our readers requesting us to include camels in our trip. Every blog, it seems, comes to a decisive moment where it desperately needs camels to maintain ratings, and our readers have been both sensitive and proactive on this front, beseeching us to locate the camels, and ride them hither and yon across epic desert landscapes. Worry not, fellow travelers. We have not only done this, selflessly sacrificing our delicate buttocks for our readers ecruitious desires, but we have documentation to prove our escapades. Worry not! We have no photographs of our sore anatomies. No. We still hold out for a PG-13 rating, maybe even an academy award. Is that too much to hope for? India Travel Blog Movie? It's possible.

The first step you need to take, in order to participate in a camel trek through the desert, is to acquire some camels. Where does one get camels? Good question. There are people, people who arrange treks in the desert. Much money is in play, so they all want to be your friend. First, we talk to Mr. Desert, recommended by the Lonely Planet. He is in the midst of dying his awesome facial and skull hair black, so no pictures just now, thank you. Then we talk to Ganesh travels, also suggested by the LP, who we decide to go with. In theory, Ganesh travels is a co-op, and it does seem to treat the camel drivers & guides really well, but I don't think it's actually a co-op in the sense that the workers actually own part of the company. Everyone offers "non-touristic" camel treks. After finishing the whole thing, nobody is quite sure what that means, exactly.

We book a day and a half trip. The next morning we get up early, eat a huge breakfast at the town's German Bakery (which has the best cheese omelet and apple pie eva), and pack into a jeep with our fellow adventurers. We've assembled a multinational team to find Osama. In attendence: an Italian man, two nice English ladies, a Dutch woman, and an Israeli couple. It's always a slight dilemma, and game, when we are in the company of Israelis. This is because I can understand most of what they are saying to one another, but I am usually going about everything in English. One must choose when to bust out the Hebrew and "I understand" cues. At some point a joke is made and I just laugh out loud, get some funny looks, and explain what's going on. We ride for about 30 minutes out into the desert, where we are deposited at the trip start location. There are camels and guides here, so we've probably come to the right place.

camel houses

These are the camel houses, where the camels are kept. The long cylindrical forms are ideal for the extreme temperatures of the desert, and maintain a constant, mild, airflow throughout the space that makes it comfortable for pupal and gestating camel forms. The houses are multifaceted. They can also be turned on their sides and made into giant fans that help keep the desert cool.


Actually, they are windmills. I understand the windmills generate power used by the tiny villages we'll visit later. They enhance and complement the beauty of the desert, in my opinion, much like the Golden Gate Bridge enhances the beauty of the Golden Gate.

on a camel!

Woo! Camels! Here I am, sitting atop Michael Jackson. Yeah! That's his name. Why? We'll find out later, or at least we'll find out about my theories.

The blurred out finger smudge is absolutely ominous looking. Like a large fleshy comet is about to smash into me, obliterating us all. I think my camera should have some intense ridging or tactile feedback near the lens so people know it's there. The camera is so small, it's easy to cover the lens. Maybe some electrical shock feedback would do the trick.

we are camels

Here are some camels. There are, as many people know, flocks of birds, schools of fish, and so on. Different animal types have their own special words for what a group of them is. I'm not sure why, exactly. Is English special? Not very polymorphic, right? So what is the corresponding word for flock, when talking about camels? Did you know that one speaks of a hump of camels? You can also say a spit of camels, though our camels definitely fart more than they spit, but they are not nearly as flatulent as we were made to expect. Actually, none of this is true. Except the part about the farting. And the part about "here are some camels."

sarah ride em cowboy

Here is Sarah, one of our travel buddies, enjoying camel time. It's camel time all the time when you hang out with our guides, accomplished graduates of Thar's finest camel college. At right is Alex. I really wish his Burning Man cowboy hat hadn't been destroyed and discarded already. It would be perfect. Just perfect. Right now.

Riding a camel isn't as easy as you think. Your inner thigh muscles are exposed to a constant, large and active stretch, and their gait is funky, making balancing tricky, and requiring much core strength. Camels need to be goaded onwards, constantly, too, and steered in the proper direction. When we start drifting into the wrong direction we are goaded by our guides: "Where are you going, my friend? That way is Pak-i-stan!" "Challo, Challo, Pak-istan!" Challo, sounds like Yalla, which also means let's go, or onward, in Arabic and Hebrew. I love let's go phrases. A-yo (Indonesian). Yalla (Hebrew/Arabic). Challo (Hindi). Oniva & Vaz-e (French). Ayenu po (Hebrew: we were here), Alachnu (Hebrew: we've left), Zaznu (Hebrew: we've moved). Let's go. Onward. Ya. Many of these have a similar music to them, tone, melody, and rhythm.

the caravan

I have to admit that the photographs in this trek are absolutely not in any kind of exact temporal order. They roughly follow a kind of temporal logic that maps to real life in certain kinds of ways, but not others. Our editor thought it best to do this. He's new here, and I don't know him that well. Certain similar events have been conflated, and others picked apart. Dramatic compression, or something like that.

The desert is actually mostly hard earth, rocks, and so on, which is surprising to some people. I was cleansed of this misapprehension many years ago, when I first trekked around the Negev in Israel. The picturesque sand dunes are just the camp site we trek out to, and watch the sunset from. Did someone say sunsets? Indeed. Read on.


We stop at a couple very small villages populated by, who I understand to be, of the Dalit (a.k.a. Untouchable) cast. These houses are awesome. Unlike the hill tribe people of Thailand, these folks haven't had the decades of experience necessary to make the exploitation happening here a full two way street. We are offered expensive sodas, sometimes, but they are rarely cold.

When we book the trip, Ganesh (the company owner, not the God) gives us plastic baggies, and tells us to please help keep his desert clean. That's cool. When we leave a spot, I pick up a bunch of trash, but I can't comprehend how clean the desert is. It's so clean when we get somewhere, especially given how many little bits of trash are discarded by us during an hours rest, and how meticulous our guides aren't. Truly a mystery. Later, our guides tell us that Ganesh hires the villagers to help clean the desert. Makes sense, I guess, and explains the mystery of the clean desert.

family children of the sun

Children always make for winning pictures, even if they aren't smiling. This picture has already won numerous awards, but that's not the topic of this blog, so I won't bore you with the details.

On our second village visit, on the way back to Jaisalmer, the dutch Sarah shares her camel with a sick girl who needs a ride towards the hospital. The girl's younger brother is terrified to see her go. Her father walks alongside, but doesn't want to ride. We're like the regularly scheduled bus. Yeah. Of course, this doesn't stop the girl from asking Sarah for money.

bright walk bright

People certainly know how to dress around here. Our western worlds are so dull and lifeless by comparison. This creates a certain hazard in buying clothes in India which we'll discuss in a future posting.

look to the humped sky

Camels are mammals. They are pregnant longer than humans, about 13 months. They are carrying all our water, blankets, bags, and food.

chill time

The desert is hot, and the sun will burn you. Sunscreen and shade are crucial, and resting in the shade around noon is essential. The longer the rest the better. We sit and eat on these desert tables. If the wind blows wrong, your food gets covered in sand. Not to worry, one of the guides assures me, it's desert sugar. Delicious.

Sometimes there are goats hanging out with us when we rest. They can behave like really aggressive pests at times, going after our bags and food. The upside is that if we want Chai, the milk can be really fresh. A guide grabs a goat, steers her over to the kitchen setup, and milks it. When he's done, he slaps her, and she runs off. It's a fair trade, I guess, for the food and leftovers they get from us.


This is the parking lot.


Above, some Israelites, taking a break from their desert wandering. I take this long break as an opportunity to buff up my Hebrew. Some Israelis would rather talk to me in English, but these two are quite patient, and happy to talk to me in Hebrew. Overall, India is a great place to practice your Hebrew.

The guides know a fair bit of Hebrew. They even sing some Israeli children's songs. It's pretty remarkable. The whole trip I keep hearing "Ma, baya, ma?" from one of the guides. And the Israeli dude keeps saying "baya," too. "Ma" means what in Hebrew. "Baya" means problem. We're always talking about problems. Most of our pidgin conversations involve some kind of problem. Finally, I have to ask, and it turns out that "baya," in Hindi, means brother, informally, like bro. It all fits together. The Israeli guy also keeps asking to be taken to meet Bin Laden. "Is that possible?," he keeps asking.

There is a certain irony is all this. I'm tickled that one of our guides, for example, a young Muslim man from a desert village of maybe 40 people near the border of India and Pakistan, is something of an international culture and language expert. He speaks bits of many different languages, and can impersonate Japanese people better than anyone I've met. It's strange, and very funny. He cooks shakshouka for breakfast. Apparently, it's not exactly right, but it is a nice try, and delicious on its own terms.

He tells us a story about one guest who got his food, which they work very hard to make, but isn't terribly fancy, and said "What is this? I want mango lassi. I want Nan. I want blah blah blah," and threw his food into the desert. What can you do, he says. You have to laugh. And it is funny.

And there is the story of someone who kept asking for "peepee," a word they didn't know. Or they thought they did, as peepee can mean something else that isn't in the desert, though I don't remember what it is. "There is no peepee here, my friend, this is the desert." He was told. After many hours of this the dude just did it on the camel.


Camels need to rest, too.

water me

Camels, like all photosynthesizing life forms, needs lots of water. They have a special kind of brown chlorophyl. Weird, huh? Biology and science are stranger than fiction. I learned this on a PBS documentary that may or may not be real.

fly fly fly goat goat

I've never seen so many flies in my life, concentrated in one place. Incroyable. Maybe we saw a ton of them around the Taj Mahal, which is part of what makes the Taj one of the wonders of the world, but this is a whole new level of insect life. It's like all the airborne insects in the entire desert between Pakistan and India have converged right here, at water time. Why not?


We wander around in the desert some more, which I can't imagine doing for forty years, with or without camels. Above is the English Sarah, the other one being Dutch.

Camels can walk. They can sit. They can stand. They can carry you. Camels can also run. A running camel is an interesting thing. You bounce around. They have funny, long, oddly jointed legs that create weird gaits. When they run, it's exciting, like an amusement park ride. And then, it begins to hurt. You have to take the basic camel riding hurt, the one which bows your bones away from your hip sockets, and stretches and kneads your inner thigh muscles out without end, and turn it up to 11. Now all this is happening in a much more intense way, and all your assets are being pounded into chapati. This goes on for a while. We have places to go. The camel drivers even have a song, a ancient little funny sounding song they sing to the camels, that causes them to ride and ride and ride. I try singing the song, which kind of works. It's like a camel trance. The pain. The pain is intense. I think I know now why the camel named Michael Jackson, my camel, is named Michael Jackson. Each camel footstep is like a small, bumpy, death. We enter a kind of camel purgatory for hours. I assume contrived postures on my camel, postures designed to protect some valuable assets from harm's way. Postures I would only assume given the pain I am in, and the balancing skills acquired from rock climbing. The drivers may not understand exactly how hard this is for us. It is.

food time

Food time is fun time. Using only basic technologies, elaborate 12 course meals are prepared for us. Servants spring forth from nowhere. Mango lassis magically materialize. We eat from jewel encrusted plates. The desert is a marvelous place. All one needs is a magic lantern.

chow me now

Here are our mighty steeds enjoying a well deserved meal. Camels have the craziest looking tongues you've ever seen in your entire life. It looks like they are vomiting out a bunch of internal organs, but, in fact, they are licking their lips, or something. No visual documentation here, thanks. My camera might crack in half. Michael Jackson, my camel of choice, has some kind of eating disorder. He often stops to snack when we're in transit. I feel bad, robbing him of some choice desert greenery, but I goad him on, when we're in transit, reluctantly.

alex time

Finally, we rest. It's tiring to be carried all day by a large mammal in the sun.

tired sunset

Here we are, resting after a hard day of camel driving and dune climbing, enjoying a sunset we have come halfway around the world to see. We leave our camp and climb the highest dune we can find, which is not as easy as it sounds, given the state of our bodies. It's a great time, but nobody is smiling, since we're so tired. Ugh. You also want to see? Oh, sure. Just look down.

dune sunset

Don't worry. That's a not a nuclear bomb going off on the horizon, it's just the sun. I guess it's still nuclear. Like a submarine, but without the submersability. My word processor doesn't think that's a real word, but I do.

sil sunset

If you climb dune after done, you get as many sunsets as your legs can keep up with.

We return to Jaisalmer, and plan for the next stage of our journey. All over India I've been wearing my funny turban, dhoti, and funky hippie India shirt. It's all very functional. And I am made fun of. Kids in the city say I look like a farmer. Nobody dresses like this, see. It's all about the modern western shirt, which you can then wear with whatever you want. I finally put it all together. The nice white button down shirt, and the white dhoti, which looks like a skirt for men, and the nicely colored turban.

I am complemented upon now, by everyone. At the guest house, I am taught new words, like teek (ok), and am given the Indian name Ramu, which I am proud of. Ramu is a God's name. A powerful name. For the rest of the trip I introduce myself as such, and people think it's the funniest thing. That's right. Later, back in Berkeley, Shalin tells me that Ramu is always the servant's name in Hindi films. That's why it's so funny.

But what is this? We have an important phone call. Calls of international importance. The Dali Lama has just sent word that he needs us up north, near Dharmasala. What can we do? We make all the necessary arrangements, and set off to the Himalayas. Besides, it's hot here, and we need some AC au natural.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Edible Fortresses

The staff here at Phases Crossed is thankful to our readers' kind patience, knowing full well that patience is one of our world's few non-renewable resources. We will spare no expense in bringing you editions of Phases Crossed on time, however, no matter how remarkable the technologies required. We have gotten our hands on so called "time travel" technology, and are able to retroactively backdate issues, as you see here, with as much ease as a publicly owned company can backdate stock options. While your present day selves have patiently been waiting for the next installment for quite some time, your past selves are already satisfied. You can think of it as a little like the retro-active amnesia drugs you may have had for your wisdom teeth removal, but operating in reverse. in reverse. in reverse. in reverse. Never mind. The risks inherent in distorting the fabric of internet space-time -- think big black holes capable of sucking down our entire galaxy -- are small, when compared with the satisfaction we can bring to our many readers, or at least their temporally past selves.

Indian adventurers know that an important part of any trip to India is riding the buses, which are important sites of physical and mathematical research. In ancient times, Indian philosophers discovered & developed the concept of Zero. In modern times, armed with one of the world's largest populations, Indian mathematicians are pursuing advanced studies in large numbers. India is so big, and so overwhelming, that they have entirely new kinds of numbers to describe the magnitudes at play here, like lakh (100,000) and crore (100 lakh). The buses are practical experiments with notions of compactification and infinity.

An Indian bus, you see, can never be full. You can always put more people on a bus. For an Indian bus to be full is a practical and theoretical impossibility, as highly reproducible experiments all over India have shown, time and time again. People can go on the roof of the bus, on other people, or in the null space between two people. Just when you think -- "wow, this bus is ridiculously full, nobody else could possible get on and fit anywhere" -- 1 crore more people board the bus.

But this is where the fun starts. The excitement really takes off when you take this bus, and ride it at night, when all the nocturnal goods transport trucks come out, each with a driver specially trained in the Indian arts of highway navigation. The only rule on an Indian highway is to get there first, and pass whenever you can, or, if that fails, pass whenever you can't. You can pass someone on the shoulder's highway, which isn't paved, but open land. You can pass in the oncoming traffic lane, even if it has someone coming right at you. The trick, as a passenger, is to not look, because every few seconds your bus is heading directly into the face of an oncoming truck. With only inches to spare, and your life passing before your eyes, your bus narrowly passes back into its lane, and you narrowly escape death -- at least for another five seconds, when it's time to pass again. It's a good time.

stretch rickshaw

One of the first things I notice as we get close to Jodhpur is how all the rickshaws here are like stretch limo versions of rickshaws in the rest of India. Maybe it's for all the royalty who live in the castles here.


The work of angels, fairies and giants... built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun... he who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is as though he walked through mountain gorges... -Rudyard Kipling

We arrive late at night in Jodhpur, and catch a rickshaw to Yogi's Guest House. I immediately like Yogi after I first talk to him over the phone to make the reservation. He calls me "brother", and tells me how to handle the rickshaw drivers, suggesting we take a rickshaw to a nearby commission paying guest house, which will get us a bargain on the ride, and then walk over to him, where he can "deal with the bastard." Although I'd like to help dish out some righteous revenge to a scheming rickshaw driver, it's almost midnight, and I'd rather just go to bed. It's a nice guest house, with a great view of the fort towering overhead, Mehrangarh. Yogi is super sweet, and has lived in San Francisco for a few years, so his soul is partially Californian, and Yogi, the man, is immediately likable. The rooftop restaurant has terrific views of the fort, which we get a feeling for, even in the dark.

yogi alex

Here is Alex, at peace, in the guest house. We are treated to two days of overcast weather, and even a bit of rain, making our trip is this desert empire a little easier on the eyes, skin, and suntan lotion.

castle in the sky

Floating above us is a boy's dream, built by angels and giants, the desert fortress Mehrangarh. We go to sleep, knowing that tomorrow we will wake up and unwrap this most awesome present. Two things must be remembered: It's dark when we first see it, so it's lit only by moonlight. Also, it's huge. It's so much huger than it seems in this picture. This will be made clear later when we have better scale referents. This photo is from the guest house rooftop.


Alex didn't sleep that well, and is understandably slow, but I'm super excited to go out and explore. I keep saying: "I hear there's a giant awesome fortress out there!"

das walls

As we get closer, we start to realize how hard it's going to be to follow our original plan of sneaking in, scaling the walls, or a frontal attack. We decide to switch to Plan B: enter through the front gate, and buy a ticket. The accompanying audio guide is highly awesome. Alcatraz is hard to get out of. Mehrangarh is hard to get into. But both have excellent audio tours.

On the way in, we see a power generator with Om written on it. It's not making Ohms, but spiritual power, of some sort. Perhaps this is the secret to the Rajput's success in fending off the Muslim Mughal empire from this part of India. There's a whole Om/Ohm life cycle at play in India. Later in our trip, we find a hydropower plant with a Shiva temple inside, presumably using Om to generate Ohm.


This is part of the approach to the front door. Notice how it winds around and around, like an intestine maximizing surface area to the digestive walls of the castle. This should be an obviously optimal strategy to players of Tower Defense. Apparently it's smart to put doors with short approaches to them, so elephants can't build up too much speed and knock them down.

me mouth

All the canons in the fort are whimsically decorated like this. I mean fiercely. Fiercely whimsical. Um, or, whimsically fierce. That's it. On the ramparts are a collection of international canons the Rajputs took from various parts of the world as war booty while helping the British.

happy castle boy kipling's referent

This place makes me super happy.

Mehrangarh's windy walls

This is a view down the man made canyon of the fort's front approach.

jodhpur fort & city

Those with good eyes will notice the dominance of the color blue. The fortress is surrounded by a city that is painted mostly blue. It's very pretty.

palace palace

If you can build a fort like this, you can build rooms like this for your royal party to party in.

elephant ride

And if you're going to ride elephants, you need to do it in style.

you & me

We finally scale the walls, walk around the battlements, and find that our princess is another castle. If you look closely, you can see how older crenelation (the teeth on top of castle walls) has been built over, to make even taller walls and towers. Standing on top of the battlements does remarkable things to your hearing. It's as if you can hear whispers from any part of the city below. If you ever wanted to know what Superman feels, or hears like, come to Jodhpur.

temple birds

We find a nice temple. So do some birds.

we're off

And the Indiana Jones-es are off to rescue more princesses, from more castles, much like Mario. Mario Jones. Or something. We have a late night train, so we wait along with lots of other people in the lobby of the train station. Many Indians like to sleep on the floor when they wait for night trains.

waiting room


We set out for Jaisalmer and more delicious eyeball treats (mmm), and apple pie. We hear they have really good apple pie. The only train, unfortunately, leaves at midnight or so, and gets there at 5 am. This is a small sleep bummer.

This is the first part of India where we start to see lots of army folks around, probably because we are getting close to Pakistan. On the train we meet some nice officers, who are extremely friendly and well educated. Officers get to ride AC, but enlisted men must go normal sleeper class.

Ahead of time, I've booked a room in a mid range place called Shahi Palace, on a tip that you can get a budget priced room from them. They pick us up at 5am from the train station, which is super convenient, and give us a room to nap in, which is super sweet. Of course, everyone has an angle. They put us in a nice room later, at a good price (350Rs), and try to sell us a camel trek, no doubt on a nice commission. When we plan our camel trek, they promise us the same room, same rate, when we return. Surprise! When we return, later, the room has been taken by someone else -- a 1% chance, we were promised; a minor miracle, I point out to the owner -- and only a more expensive room is available. Alas. We are told by the hotel's unctuous owner that we should not tell anyone who we booked our trek through, since it's bad for his own business. We'll tell you in an upcoming edition... The small guest house empire the owner operates has really nicely designed rooftop restaurants, with great views of the fort. The food is terrible, the Lonely Planet warns us. We figure -- how badly can someone mess up breakfast, fried eggs and such? Incredible India never stops amazing us. It's a great guest house, except for the lousy food, and the jerk owner. But, if you know what you're getting involved with, it's a convenient and cheap way to enter Jaisalmer.

Oh yeah, so what is Jaisalmer? Why do people come all the way to the edge of India, the edge of the desert's border with Pakistan? What's here? Two things, mostly: an awesome fort that the Lonely Planet describes as delicious, made of gingerbread, or something like that, and camel treks. Really, I think it's made of sandstone, and it looks golden. From the blue city to the gold one. The fort, besides tasting great, is also a functioning city, albeit a mostly tourist oriented city. The LP doesn't list guest houses in the fort anymore, since there's some kind of sewage load management problem, and the fort's bastions are collapsing. The water is eating away the sandstone foundations.

fort side close up

The fort is large, and it's hard for me to give you a good visual picture of it. It is surrounded by these round towers and walls, and rises up out of the surrounding landscape. If you look closely, or click through, you can see the government authorized bhang shop in the photo above. Also nearby the fort's entrance is a German bakery with mind numbingly good food. We have the best apple pie on planet earth here. It's in all the space alien's travel books. Lonely Galaxy is one of the most popular. We return later for more, but the tourist season is coming to a close, as the temperatures are heating up, so no more pie is in the works. It is a bittersweet realization that we had but one slice of the final, and most delicious, apple pie of the season.


Above is one of the gates you pass through to enter the fortress city.

cake walls

Here is a large picture which helps me emphasize how the fort is large. But not too large. You can learn to get around the place in a few hours. This photo is taken from one of the towers. Don't you want to put on some frosting and eat it all up? I do.

in the fort drawring

Inside is mostly shops and restaurants, and people's houses. Ever since the Lonely Planet gave guest houses in the fort the thumbs down, by not listing them, rates have dropped on rooms, since business is down. Above, a shop lined street. Next to it -- Alex and I chill out in a quiet temple's courtyard, and he demonstrates that he still likes to draw, 1.5 months into the trip.


And a courtyard inside the fort.


A fifteen minute walk from the fort is this lovely lake. It's quite natural, actually, to have a large, elegantly decorated lake, in the middle of the desert. Jaisalmer was once a very important trading city, so I imagine that all the wealth and interest in beautiful things motivated people to beautify their city with a lake. Like a big garden. Why not?

alex riding hippo shotgun

No lake is complete without hippo themed paddle boats, which I think are a more modern addition. We go for a short cruise, and terrorize some Japanese girls in a swan boat. Why not?


On our way back from the lake, we run into a 6 year old girl, no more than two feet tall, who uses the blocking maneuvers of a an eight foot tall basketball player to obstruct our passage. Alex and I are terrified by her determined face, disarmed by her cuteness, and find it utterly impossible to move past her. Realizing that our trip could very well end here, in the streets of Jaisalmer, I think fast. Children all over India are always asking for school pens, chocolate, and money. It's a good idea to fabricate some pens made of chocolate before you leave home, to hand out, precisely for situations such as this. You can put 1 Rupee coins inside as prizes. Realizing that we have no chocolate school pens, I break into a cold sweat. I remember that I have a pen in my pocket that I've been carrying around, meaning to give away, since it's starting to run low on ink. I look into her determined eyes, and ask her, in a kind of pleading, offering, voice: "School pen?". She cocks her head. I think she's interested. There's an understanding that we're bargaining for nothing less than our safe passage home. The question mark in my voice asks: Is this enough? She thinks for a moment, interested, but not satisfied. I hold out the pen, and ask again: "School pen?" She starts nodding, reaching for the pen, giving a nonverbal gesture that the battle is over, and grabs it in her small hands, looking totally satisfied. Success and escape.

sandal like new

Here is the cutest deaf & mute child shoe repairman in all of India, maybe the world, working on my sandals. For one dollar, he sewed the small remaining scrap of my Choco soles back on. All over India, street shoe repairmen have tirelessly hounded me about this, and I refused -- since the sandals were clearly ready to go on the cart. But this boy's silent pitch was irresistible. At the original rate asked (skin tax already included), the number of foreign tourists in this city, and his expertise in up selling, he might also be the wealthiest deaf & mute child shoe repairman in India, and possibly the whole world. Child labor isn't a simple thing. I had a delicious breakfast prepared by a 14 year old Nepalese boy in Varanasi. As long as kids have a chance to go to school and play, I see nothing wrong with it, and some positive value, as well, and not just to our cheap consumer goods.


Jaisalmer has some lovely, exceptionally well preserved, old buildings and housings made of delicately decorated and carved sandstone. This place is so pretty, we don't go inside, since our whole world might reveal itself to us in only black and white from here on out. It's a fate we don't want to tempt.


We find this treasure in the city outside of the fort. If you, or anyone you know, can translate and explain this poster, don't delay -- write in now! Our curiosity hangs in the balance.

da cook

We go for dinner one night inside the fort. Where to eat? We ask some shopkeepers their expert opinion. What kind of food do we want? Indian, of course. Italian food abounds here, for some reason. Maybe tomatoes grow really well in the desert. Our shopkeeper friends suggest we walk a bit, turn the corner, walk some more, and look for a place called "Meals Service." Five minutes later we are standing, blinking, in front of a staircase that seems to go up into a residential building, with a hand written sign on the outside proclaiming "Meals Service." Before we can follow our second thoughts to their logical conclusion, some children come bouncing down the stairs, and happily greet us.

I venture in, to check the place out. It's the inside of an Indian family's apartment. Where will we sit, I ask? The kids excitedly point to a seat built into a window nook. Nice. I ask the kids -- do you have a rooftop we can eat on? Yes -- with a lovely view of the entire fort from above! My skepticism is leaving me now, but I have to see the menu. What are we in for? Some really nice sounding and nicely priced Thalis. I've heard of restaurants run by blind people where all eating is done in the dark, but eating at a place run by children? And who will cook the food, I ask the kids? "Grandma!" I report back to Alex that we have to eat here -- someone's grandma will make us dinner, and we can sit on the roof of the fortress, look out, and eat our Thalis. It's a done deal. The food takes a while, which we're used to by now, but it's awesome possum. And it's veg! Above is the cook in her kitchen.

The time has come for us to undergo the trial by sand and mammal. It had to come to this. Stay tuned, same web site, future time, for the further adventures of Chaim & Alex. Find out what really happens in Thar, and where Spice really comes from. All this and more in our next issue.