Varanasi: Samosas without Onions

Our train to Varanasi does not leave until 11.30 pm, but we cannot believe how busy the station is – where are people coming and going at such a late hour on a Sunday night? Woman dressed in finery, young girls in pale pink net party dresses, knitted woolen caps incongruously pulled down almost over their eyes to protect against the cool night air. I imagine they’ve been visiting relatives across town for Sunday dinner. A teenage Moslem boy holds the hands of his two timid younger sisters, leading them across the busy station platform. Tired porters stagger by us, their backs laden with luggage. It baffles us how much luggage a single family will travel with. A large group of adults and children settle down on the platform beside us, laying out blankets, unpacking food. I watch them…while they watch me. In India there’s full license to stare. They all do it – as do I.


Gerard disappears into the crowd to buy mineral water. Suddenly out of nowhere, I’m overwhelmed with the anxiety that he may not come back. If he had a heart attack and died right there on the platform, no one would know to come and tell me. What would I do? Who could help me? The elevator man at the Sunflower is very personable but what could he do? Maybe the organist could arrange for a funeral at St John’sChurch? But how do I find him? Where’s the church…without Gerard to guide me? Maybe that extra cup of chai was too much.When he finally remerges from the crowd, I say, “You’re not doing that again. If you go, I go with you”

Shortly after, our train is announced, and we get on without further incident. With the exception of a couple of over-excited children (at midnight?) followed by the customary loud snorer…the journey is uneventful and we’re able to get some sleep before arriving in Varanasi the next morning.

P1070886The gentle-faced waiter at Spicy Bites does a double take when he sees us. “So nice to see you again! But you don’t usually come in December?” It’s true; every other time has been in March or April. Varanasi feels different in December – quieter and less crowded. The foreign tourists are all in Goa for Christmas; the Indian tourists and pilgrims we’re told aren’t traveling because there’s an upcoming election and they need to stay home to vote. It’s also too cool for the pilgrims that come in droves from South India. The shopkeepers say business is worse than usual even for this time of year. “2013 has not been good,” we hear repeatedly. They protest against the inflation of food prices with onions hit the worst, as much as twenty times. Many restaurants no longer include onions in their cooking – samosa with no onions??

But the biggest impact in Varanasi was felt from the floods. We’d heard that it had been a heavy monsoon with landslides in the north of India with many thousands killed. Walking along the ghats, we’re shocked at the extent of the damage. The Ganges swelled so much that the waters rose up and flooded part of the city, leaving in its wake thick mud all over the ghats. To make matters worse, the city had done nothing to reduce the accumulation of mud deposits from the monsoons of the past few years. Now they are forced to address the problem, and a very primitive operation is going on, all day every day. Water is pumped out of the Ganges and then at high velocity used to wash the mud back into the river.

Gerard has a stomach/intestinal upset for a couple of days and not wanted to go far from the hotel room, so I’ve spent time wandering around by myself – a somewhat unusual experience for me when we’re traveling.  (He can’t leave me, but it’s all right for me to leave him!)  We’ve been in Varanasi so many times that I’m quite comfortable especially in the area where we stay. But the narrow maze of lanes surrounding our guest house, Shiva Kashi, are dark and chilly so I walk down on the ghats where the sun shines weakly through the December haze. The locals also like to hang out here in the open space and I’m dodging cricket balls, detangling my feet from kite strings, and stepping over playful puppies of stray dogs. Boat building, bodies burning, head shaving…there can’t be a more dramatic river walk anywhere in the world. A woman alone, I have to deflect an avalanche of requests – pushy Indian boys wanting to walk with me, ‘sadhus’ begging money, children selling postcard s. “Excuse me madam, boat ride?” “Where are you going? Would you like company?” “No thank you, not today,” I say firmly with a smile to everyone, and they move on. But I feel different walking alone. I see my surroundings in a more introspective light. The experience is mine alone… but when I return, I share it with Gerard.


Then a pleasant good-looking young man attaches himself and as we walk I steer the conversation to politics and the upcoming election. He tells me how hopeful he is about the BJP competitor winning, given the bad performance of the Congress Party incumbent who has done nothing to address the deteriorating economy. And then, respectful of an older woman perhaps, he folds his hands and we part. A few days later I meet him again, this time with Gerard who picks up the discussion. The man believes population is India’s greatest problem, and then corruption. “But first you have to address population.” When he marries in a couple of years, he will not have children. “You won’t? What about family pressure…your wife’s desire? “Well,” he backtracks, “at least not for two years, and then only one if I am financially prepared.”


On my way back, I meet a couple from Oregon. The following night Gerard and I have dinner with them. We immediately hit it off. Just a decade older than us, their lives have been uncannily similar. They were in high school in Idaho together, several years later met again in San Francisco and married, and now celebrating their 53rd anniversary. Neither had the desire to have children and they were able to maintain a very free life style that was not career-driven. And like us, there was a lot of focus on traveling. Denis and Camile had some amazing stories such as spending 30 days on a tramp steamer to Casablanca. It sounds like they know Morocco almost as well as we do. And every time Gerard mentioned some place in India they’d say, “Oh yes, we were there 20 years ago.” They’ve been coming since the mid 80s and when asked why they continue to come (they’ve been 13 times) Camile said, “Where else can you go that’s so exotic and so cheap?” We couldn’t have said it better.


Camile started hitchhiking in the late 50s; following in the path of such greats as Kerouac and Cassidy making cross country sojurns. We all agreed that hitchhiking was the way to go, and like the 8 track, definitely a thing of the past! As the political landscape changed, they left US in the late 60s to live in England, and then Europe. For those who don’t remember, Gerard left under a similar cloud in 1968. And on it goes…they’re even vegetarians! Everyone is so unique with their individual history –even more so as we get older – it’s rare to cross paths with people who have such a similar background to ours. And as fate will have it, we will be seeing each other again soon on the beach in Goa and look forward to picking up where we left off!

P1070761It’s early afternoon and the restaurant is almost empty so Manoj the waiter has time to chat with us. For the second time he tells us his story – this time with more detail. He came to Varanasi from Bihar, the poorest state in India in 1997. The eldest in a family of four sisters and one brother, he left school when he was twelve years old. Envious of those who had more money and were able to stay in school, he left home without telling his parents and followed friends who told him how easy it was to make money in Varanasi. Fate was kind; the owners of Spicy Bites took him in, taught him the trade and sent him to school during the day. He learned English from the tourists and now sixteen years later he’s still living with the family and is working in the restaurant alongside the two brothers who own it. In addition to supporting his own wife and child, Manoj sends the money he earns home to his parents.

Contrary to what we’ve seen among our middle class Indian friends, Manoj makes a strong point that dowry is still a major requirement in marrying off women. With four sisters, and a father who is no longer earning an income, much of the financial responsibility has now fallen on the shoulders of Manoj and his younger brother, who works in Mumbai. The marriages are all arranged by the parents, but when Manoj went to see his future wife for the first time, and her father asked how much dowry was required, Manoj replied, “Only pay what you can afford, nothing more.” He liked the look of his wife and felt that she was a good woman and it wasn’t necessary to demand a lot of money like so many other Indian marriages where it’s all about money. He thought about his own sisters and felt that it was good karma not to request a large sum of money. Perhaps then his father also would not be requested to pay a lot of money to marry off his own daughters. On the other hand, when his parents heard what he had done they were very upset with him. “You could have used this money to start your new home,” Manoj replied, “In my heart I feel this is the right thing to do.” And four years later, he still believes this because he has a good marriage, a loyal wife who takes care of his parents, and has given him a healthy daughter.


Now his wife, Arti, is expecting their second child due in two months. And recently Manoj has been returning to his village every few months to accompany his wife on maternity visits to the doctor. Tomorrow he’s going for only two days to oversee the arranged marriage engagement of his youngest sister. He’s lucky he makes enough money to be able to do this. Based on the experience of himself, his siblings and his parents, Manoj believes that arranged marriages have a greater chance of success than ‘love’ marriage.

Varanasi is the other Indian city we love. More ancient than Kolkata, and not influenced by the British, it is also the most sacred in India. The morning sunrise on the buildings is captured in Gerard’s painting.

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Walking in Kolkata


It’s only been six months since we were last in Kolkata, and the man who works the antiquated elevator at the Sunflower Guest House greets us with a formal bow as he takes us to our floor. His young wife and child used to sleep with him on the ground floor beside the elevator. I ask how they are. “Back in Bihar.” he says sadly. Like so many other restaurant and hotel workers, who are forced to leave their families hundreds of miles away in the impoverished states of Bihar and Orissa. The multi-floored Sunflower with its wide well-worn wooden staircase (an option to the elevator), has the shabby imperialism of a Russian apartment building before the revolution- surrounded not by silent snow but the dusty chaos of crowded streets. In addition to the guest rooms, each floor includes flats where families stay long term although, looking at the state of their rusty mailboxes in the entry way, there’s not many living here any longer.

Last March, in overwhelming heat and humidity, we spent our time on the publicized major attractions (Victoria Memorial, Botanical Garden, Park Cemetery, Flower Market etc.). Now, with cooler weather, we decided to just walk the streets. Like NYC the best way to experience Kolkata is on foot.


We took a walk along Chitpur Street (renamed Rabindra Sarani) which was the nerve center of Black Town during the starkly segregated days of the Empire. Along the way are mansions of the rich who patronized the British and embellished their houses with European arts. These decaying old buildings display architectural features from Greek Classical to French Gothic and everything in between. From street up you can see how the style changes– early English arcading, window carving in the Mughal style, and Gothic decorated stone balustrades, with small trees now sprouting from their moldy ledges.


The MarblePalace is the most opulent with Corinthian pillars and nymphs on the pediments. Built by the Maharajah of Calcutta around 1815 – some of the family still live in an annex. An art collection includes fine paintings from the West – a Gainsborough and Rueben, Ming vases and stone lions and goddesses. The ball room alone has 13 crystal chandeliers. Geoffrey Moorhouse, in his book, “Calcutta: The City Revealed,” was more cynical in his appraisal:  “it looks as if (the artifacts) had been scavenged from job lots on the Portobello Road on a series of damp Saturday afternoons.”


On neighboring small lane sits the home of Rabindranath Tagore, telling us much about the rise of the Bengali renaissance. He was part of a dynasty of wealthy merchants cum artists, intellectuals and religious reformers. The house displays some fascinating paintings especially by his uncle which look as contemporary as anything painted today.

At the turn of the century a nationalist movement was rapidly developing in and around Kolkata of which the Tagore family were very much a part. So the English in their wisdom, decided to partition Bengal to reduce the risk of the growing nationalism. The Tagores were very much against the division of Hindu and Moslem; for years they had stressed the importance of unity. But in 1910 the Queen reversed the partition because of the bitter resentment it created and the rift between Hindus and Moslems was a direct result of the second partition in 1947 when east Bengal became East Pakistan. Rabindranath attracted such distinguished supporters to the cause as Swami Vivekananda the prominent disciple of Ramakrishna, and Nivedita, an Irish disciple who devoted her life to the Indian independence movement. The museum also had a lot of pictures of Rabindranath’s travels especially to China and Japan where he felt a close affinity.


The following day we walked down the Esplanade to so-called “WhiteTown” – where the English governed. Today, it is still the seat of Bengali rule. There’s such a concentration of government buildings in the European style that for a moment you can actually forget where you are if it were not for the smog and the din of car horns at any given moment.


A whimsical twist to all the confusion at the intersections is the soothing sound of a woman’s voice singing a devotional song. We’re not sure what it’s about other than soothing the frayed nerves of the pedestrians. The next moment it changes to the tinny sound of 1920s Indian film music played on a hand-wound gramophone.




Day workers sit expectantly on the pavement their tools arranged in front of them indicating their trade.





The colonnaded wide pavements (sidewalks) along the Esplanade are crowded with retailers. Each morning they set up their stalls, True to the eastern concept of merchandising they’ll be fifteen stalls all selling shirts, and then past them they’ll be ten stalls selling belts, then sunglasses and so on…

6aWhile we walked through the crowds, We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, sang out from an electronics store and two boys held up their tea-shirts for our perusal!


Anticipating the advent of Christmas, young boys sell Santa hats with likely no idea what the red cone with its white pom-pom signifies. There are even a couple of stalls, in the Moslem area (!) with festive mock fir trees and garlands spilling onto the street.unpacking merchandise that has been stored in huge sacks who knows where over night.

8St John’s Church is ready for Christmas with Santas hanging from strands of lights. A jovial dark-skinned man with thinning shoulder-length white hair in tangled dreadlocks greet us. He’s the resident organist and plays an improvised version of Silent Night for us. About our age, he can also play Pink Floyd on request. He’s lived in Kolkata all his life and tells us he grew up poor with a mother who had a Finnish last name. It is true – despite his dark skin he looks more European than Indian. He convinced us to attend the Sunday morning service. As we entered, I’m asked to read an Epistle from the lectern. It brought me back to England, attending the C of E. After the service we continued our conversation with the organist over tea and biscuits. He was very interested in black gospel music which Gerard is going to try and send him. Everyone gave us a warm welcome and seasonal greetings!


Gerard’s back has broken out in a nasty rash – significantly more angry than the first one. Hard to tell if it began with an insect bite, or if it’s just some allergic reaction. Out of my eye I catch a Homeopathic dispensary, so we walk in and a female doctor takes a look and prescribes sugar pills made up for us by the dispensing attendant. When we try to pay he says, “Oh no, it’s a government clinic, medicine is free!  They don’t do much so we return to our Moslem pharmacist friend from last year who recommends allegra and antihistamine lotion. This has more of an immediate effect

After six days, it’s time to move on to Varanasi. We could definitely have stayed longer. The city holds a strong fascination for both of us, and in a short space of time we’ve met some friendly people.


Grubby Gorakhpur

Leaving Nepal was a hard day’s work – this time no illusions about tourist bus, just your run of the mill, broken down small local bus that didn’t look like it would make it out of the parking lot, let alone the mountains! Near the border, we had to catch another bus the 5 Km to the border, which was even smaller. Gerard couldn’t stand upright when some kind soul gave us their seat.

sanauli border

Now we had heard that the crossing was chaotic, but chaotic barely scratches the surface of the total disorganization, especially on the Indian side. Nevertheless with ringing ears from large clean Korean tourist buses blowing their horns at us, not to mention anybody else who had a horn, we found our bus station and got on a “government bus” to Gorakhpur.


We have been in some grubby towns but this one gets the prize! But not only was it filthy, but all of the equally grubby hotels were grossly overpriced. A rickshaw took us to perhaps 8 or 9 throughout the town, and finally beaten down we stayed in the President, which wasn’t quite as grubby as some of the others but still grossly over priced for what it was!

The town had no redeeming features and first we couldn’t even find a restaurant, but through the gloom, kind smiling faces shone through – and came to our aid. While we were searching for a hotel with a rickshaw driver who could speak no English, a young girl pristine in her school uniform, left her own rickshaw and ran over to us offering to translate. The next morning, asking a young man on the street where we could get breakfast, he replies, “No restaurant, but you can get tea and biscuits,” and led us to a cart selling excellent chai. Once again, it’s not so much the places in India that are fascinating – it’s the people! So often, they will interrupt whatever they’re doing and go out of their way to help, surprising us with their spontaneous kindness and generosity. Later, we found one restaurant very clean and pure veg south Indian food.

train reservationOne might ask, why had we come to such a pit? To catch a train to Kolkata. Sounds simple enough  – for those who’ve never traversed the rocky terrain of the India Railway Reservation System…but for anyone unfortunate enough not to have reservation (like ourselves) we have “waiting list”, “remote location WL”, “RAC reserved against confirmation”, “pooled quota”, “foreign quota”, Tatkal, 24 hour notification and 2 hour notification…etc. etc. And then to complicate things further the computerized reservation center was no where in sight at the train station – only the usual disorganized throng of Indians around 5 or 6 ticket windows pushing and shoving each other.


The station master, in his little office on the side, explained to us what to do and where to go. A light at the end of the tunnel! We purchased a ticket with help from a few more young friendly Indians – but it was a ticket we’d never seen before – premium-priced Tatkal but still only waiting list and without confirmation until 2 hours before departure. So to pass the time we tried to ferret out the “main attractions” (as our friend Bushan would say) in Gorakhpur. We spent a lot of time between our hotel room and the restaurant which served a tasty masala dosa!

As the man said, “Come back two hours before departure…” – and sure enough we got confirmed seats. All’s well that end’s well!  With a sigh of relief we boarded, and the thought came across our collective mind –if the Indian railway system is handling with remarkable accuracy the reservations of 2o million people on any given day, embarking and disembarking in literally thousands of locations, then perhaps Obama should send his so-called computer experts, who set up the botched online healthcare registration, to India to get a few pointers!




Tansen: A Final Farewell

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After five hours of stopping and starting – peasants, goats, chickens – 2 (2)all climbed aboard; we arrived at Tansen Junction and looked around for our guesthouse “City View Homestay”. What we could see of the town was far from inspiring… then we realized we still had to take a jeep 20 minutes further up the hillside to reach the old town. The streets were steeper than Shimla and mostly pedestrian with a few inevitable motorbikes. Still looking for City View we labored up a very steep incline.


Eventually, at the tourist information center we learn that City View is a euphemism for rooms in local houses. Our choice becomes one that is less than basic or a room in the only overpriced hotel in town.

3We opt for the latter and enjoy two days of relative luxury in a room with a balcony providing a panorama of the hills and valley below and a view of both the sunrise and sunset. Once again Gerard’s found a place undiscovered by most tourists. He still hasn’t had enough of the old wooden houses with carved doorways and windows.





In the afternoon strolling around town we hear live folk music. Following the source, we find ourselves in a restaurant garden where a wedding is taking place. Much more interesting for Gerard than the ceremony (which is very hard to figure anyway) were the musicians. I don’t think they get much attention and when Gerard started to take pictures they were all smiles and appreciated someone interested in their music.




Gerard appreciates a young woman gracefully dressed in saris. Here was  a long line – volunteers for some charitable organization – in iridescent blue!5a

To get the final view of the Himalayas we plodded up to a ridge above the town, and waved goodbye.



Pokhara: The closest we get…


Pokara is a major tourist destination only rivaled by the Thamel district in Kathmandu. The eastern side of a huge lake is devoted to surprisingly expensive restaurants, guesthouses and knickknack shops. It’s by far the most expensive destination we’ve been to in Nepal and also the noisiest. Traffic is less than Kathmandu but at night the bars and dance halls open and thump out loud techno rock until 11 pm. So after the serenity of Bandipur this was a bit of a comedown. On the other hand, we are now so close to these mighty peaks!

There was a group of young trekkers who for some reason or other we found irritating with their southern Californian accent, at the Organic Café where we were eating breakfast. In the midst of this mood, a young woman sat down beside us and Gerard in his usual fashion found a way to start a conversation with her. Just as we had decided that all trekking/paragliding/rafting “privileged” kids should be dismissed, this interesting girl from Scotland had a completely different effect on us. She chose to come to Nepal to do her PhD thesis on widows. With her limited Nepalese she interviews widows in remote villages; but oftentimes she still needs an interpreter because of all the different dialects. The women welcome her into their homes which are often just a tent with no electricity or running water. One of the hurdles is the food they offer and she must eat –and then invariably get sick.

She’s already realized that in spite of all the stigmas attached to being a widow, in some cases these women are better off – their husbands may have been drunks, abusive physically and sexually, molested the children etc. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) one responded that she now had more freedom. In some cases, they are able to go to work and feel empowered by their independence. In her thesis she wants to make the point that some of these women are not as bad off as she initially thought and has already run into resistance from NGOs who would rather treat all widows in one uniform way.

She’s not sure the impact her thesis will have or if she will even be able to publish it, but it was inspiring talking to someone who’s now been here three times (four months each) and is drawing her own conclusions. Being away from Scotland so much she admitted was a little hard on her social life. So much for developing an attitude towards the under-30 group traveling in the third world!


To find something of interest in Pokhara, other than taking a boat out on the lake, you had to leave town. So in the morning, before the clouds started forming over the mountains, we took a taxi to Sarangkot, a high ridge looking straight out over the valley to the mountain peaks beyond. Most go there for sunrise, and by 10 am we had the place to ourselves. During our stay in Nepal, this is the closest we’ve come to the peaks and we hope the pictures capture a small degree of the power of the Himalayas.


Later we rented a boat with oarsman to take us out on the lake for an hour. It was very peaceful in the afternoon light. Sitting at the foothills of the mountains, Pokhara is a pleasant place to while away a couple of days.


The next morning we caught our predawn bus to another small hill town called Tansen. We had paid the price for reserved seats on the tourist bus, but when we arrived at the bus station, we were motioned to a bus that was a far cry from what we were expecting. The seats were dilapidated and crowded together, and like any local bus it stopped continuously to pick up and leave off passengers. There were only three other tourists on the bus but a tourist bus this did not make! As we pulled out of the parking lot, Gerard caught the rising sun.






Bandipur: Castles Floating in the Sky


The description in our guidebook made Bandipur sound like it was worth the energy to get to this out-of-the-way hill town – although we began to wonder when the bus connections from Kathmandu were much more complicated than need be – and then we had to catch another local bus up the hillside. We were dropped before the town was yet in view and dragging our suitcases along a path through the fields to our guesthouse was challenging. But when it finally came into view our spirits lifted!

The Depeche is an old farmhouse which has been lovingly restored in a traditional style and DSC_0602painted in burnt ochre with black trim, as is the rest of the town. Out of our window, the Himalayas stretched from east to west. In the morning, the mountains float above the mist in the valley, like a mirage in the sky.

And when we walked into town we realized we’d made the right decision.


The town center has a distinctly Mediterranean feel. In front of small restaurants tables are set out on the pedestrian-only thoroughfare. At night, louvered windows partially open to reveal a bright blue-painted ceiling with lacy curtains blowing in the breeze. It looks like something out of a Fellini movie. Everywhere, the locals are welcoming and don’t seem to mind you invading their simple lives. Bandipur is a fine example of 18th C Newari architecture (a unique style of brick work and wood carving rarely seen outside Nepal) that the town is now trying to preserve. Crumbling buildings have been restored as hotels and restaurants, and in the center there is no motorized traffic. But not easy to get to, Bandipur is still relatively undiscovered. Though geared toward tourists, they are just not here yet. Paragliders are the exception – from Australia, England, southern India…even Nepal, they come carrying their huge packs of paragliding gear on their backs.

As we’ve mentioned, the vast majority here in Nepal are trekkers and all of the trekking talk must have had a subconscious impact on Gerard: “I guess we must take some kind of trek!” he muttered. So one day we got moving early and took a turn off the main road signposted for the village of Ramkot. A French couple with a young boy had done it a day before and assured us it was no problem – a mere 2-3 hours to the village!

P1070648After an hour and half into this “country walk” Gerard is flagging, wondering what had possessed him to do such a thing. “If there’s a road out of this town we’re taking a taxi back!” Two hours into the trip I could see Gerard getting more tired and it’s up to me to divert his attention if we’re ever going to get there. I remind him the French couple had not only done it with ease, but carried their five-year old son most of the way. (We later found out that they actually hired a porter to carry Metteo!)

DSC_0640Meanwhile the scenery was spectacular, even though a mist had settled in the valley below. Finally we caught a glimpse of the village in the far distance. Gerard couldn’t believe we had so much further to go…but we made it! A beautiful little hill town with no electricity…and no road! Only one sign for a hotel and of course it was up another hillside.


But at the top was an amazing view of the mountains, and the most basic facsimile of a “hotel” – three cell-like rooms, no electricity or running water. The menu consisted of two dishes, which we ordered with great enthusiasm. As you might expect it took a long time to prepare – a pressure cooker of rice cooked down in the village was brought up.


Even though the meal was so simple it tasted very good. Two hours later, feeling somewhat refreshed we started the long road home. Things were going quite well till we came to a fork in the path…and took a wrong turn. After 20 minutes of climbing higher, it was clear we were no longer on the right path. Gerard insisted, “We’re not going back!” so there was no alternative but to fight our way through the jungle back to the path below. The terrain was treacherously steep and the undergrowth tangled and thick. But once we’d started what else to do? Eventually, with only a few bumps and scratches we joined the path below. Now Gerard is really tired and there is still a long way to go. One hour turned into two, and the end continued to be nowhere in sight.


Finally as the sun was setting on the Himalayas, our guesthouse came into view. So much for the two hours up and two hours back, we had been hiking all day! Ready to collapse, we ordered dinner, but the boy announced emphatically, “Today is my birthday. I don’t want to work!” Another 20-minute walk back into town with our flashlights to get something to eat. Even though I was very tired, for me it was one of the best days of the trip. But when I asked Gerard “Wasn’t it worth it for the great view? He replied, “Well, if you’re asking me if I would do it again, the answer is NO.”


The only other guests where we were staying were the aforementioned younger French couple with their son. Aurelien had done a lot of traveling ten years ago but now has settled into landscape design and obviously found his niche as a landscape architect. His website has pictures of his projects in Marrakech, San Tropez, Nice, Belgium and Miami. His wife is taking advantage of a six-month sabbatical that most French employers give every ten years. Aurelien continues to work remotely while they’re traveling, first in Nepal, and then to Thailand, Indonesia and Bali. However, man proposes and God disposes! Now with the political unrest in Bangkok they’re trying to sell their airplane tickets and figure out where to go instead. India might be a second choice and since he knows Agonda they parted saying, “We may see you again in January in Goa!” If we weren’t running short of time, this is definitely a place we could have whiled away several more days. Not to mention time for Gerard’s aching dogs to recuperate!