JIPP's WORLD

…….The World Without Boundaries

Hello VARANASI!

Written By: jipp - Jun• 24•19

So I have just returned from a trip to India, this time to Kolkata – the former capital city of India, and also to the holy city of Varanasi. It would be my 3rd visit to India, and the first since the fee for visa to India has been increased to RM463, which is more than double the previous fee. Doing the visa sucks big time as usual. The fact that they have moved the India Visa Centre to some building in Damansara which is not reachable by public transport didn’t make things any better. Then finding a parking space was also problematic because the center shares the buildings with dozens other companies, restaurants and even a college.

Since I didn’t have the guts to go down to the basement (new car. Heh) I had to park my car at the VIP lot (sort of). That alone had already cost me some money. Then a missing H at the passport number on the form had cost me another RM20 to pay for the over-the-counter correction. The Indian Visa team really knows how to make money. I remember how last time they did not even allow applicants to photocopy their documents at any of the adjacent photocopy shops but at their office so that they can slap them with some exuberant charges. I seriously don’t know how they can get away with all this stupidity. Perhaps, nobody has reported it so far.

So the plan was to fly to Kolkata on Air Asia, then to take a bus or train to Varanasi. But reading through all the online forums, it was quite obvious that booking a train ticket was next to impossible because they require a local Indian number, then going there by bus would involve taking a few buses instead of a single one which would be quite of a hassle to me. In the end I decided to take a domestic flight which would significantly shorten my traveling period and give me more time to explore Varanasi and later Kolkata.

So I flew over to Kolkata from Kuala Lumpur at about 10.30pm and arrived in Kolkata at about midnight. I surprised myself by sleeping through most of the flight so the flight did not feel as long as I had expected it to be. Since the flight to Varanasi would only depart the next day, I had to spend overnight at the Kolkata airport.

I had to look for the best spot where I could take some rest – and if possible – some sleep. Unfortunately, it was not easy and I found myself dozing off every now and then without really getting into a good nap. In the end I spent most of the hours going back and forth inside the airport terminal. I keep telling people that time ticks by faster when you are at an airport but it was quite the opposite when I was at the Kolkata Airport while waiting for my next flight to Varanasi.

When it was finally time to fly, I couldn’t help but feeling so relieved that the long hours of waiting had finally come to an end.

It would be my first time flying on an IndiGo flight. Categorically a budget airliner, I was surprised by how comfortable it was. There was more space for my legs than I remember it was on the Air Asia flight. Buying the ticket online was also easy and so was the web check-in. I was a happy customer.

When I first landed at Varanasi airport and disembarked from the aircraft, the first thing that I noticed was the heat. It was so damn hot and it was not even 10 in the morning. After going from counter to counter and comparing prices, I decided to take one by OLA, the Indian version of Uber.

It had cost me around 535 rupees, which is equivalent to about RM32. The driver could not speak a single word of English, although he was so eager to have a conversation with me. The first thing that he did was to stop at a gas station to get a garland of flowers – which he said was for the luck of the day – and asked me to pay for it, which I declined. I love India, but sometimes the rip-offs are just too much.

Driving towards the city center where the roads became more and more busy, one of the first things that I almost immediately noticed was the constant honking by all the motorists. I mean, the people of Varanasi really honk a lot. I like to believe that they were all friendly honking, but I’ve seen how some of the motorists got angry when the vehicle behind them kept honking incessantly without a stop. There was one time when I was so sure it was going to end up in fist fight, but it never did. My observation all throughout my stay in Varanasi and later in Kolkata told me one thing – that the people in India can be quite dramatic when it comes to arguing with one another, but you wouldn’t see them go physical in the end. For that alone they got my respect and admiration. Heh.

So the taxi dumped me on the side of a very busy street, which I later understood why. The road that led to the hotel that I was heading to was closed for pedestrians. So I lugged my bag along the busy street and it wasn’t long before somebody came up to me and offered to take me to the hotel. Quite typical of touristy areas in India of course, he took me to some clothes shop which he claimed belonged to his brother.

This so-called brother jumped up when he saw us and showed me pieces of clothes that I had no interest whatsoever so I politely declined and walked away. The guy came after me and eventually led me the hotel. I gave him INR100 for the service he rendered, which came quite handy and useful since I did not have any internet service on my phone and the complexity of the streets that formed a maze on that part of Varanasi would have had me tagging along behind my own tail.

Some say Varanasi is the craziest place on earth – for whatever reason. And true enough, I had only been in this city for a couple of hours and I was already so overwhelmed by all things that I saw and experienced within those hours. But then I believe they were just a small fraction of what I was going to discover and experience here in this very old city of Varanasi. In fact, they were just the very beginning.

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A Day Tour to Tomok

Written By: jipp - Mar• 25•19

If I may reverse on my blog sequence a little, I did mention about a 70-year-old man from Klang in Malaysia who happened to stay in the next room from mine. It started with a simple hello, then a little bit of conversation ensued, and before I knew it he was already tagging behind me to a body massage at an adjacent massage parlor. Heh.

Our hello did not end there, apparently. I offered him to come with me on a day tour to Tomok, which was located about 5 kilometers from our hostel in Tuk Tuk. Tomok is more like a little town – or even a village – which is dominated by wooden shoplots and houses that flank the main road on both sides.

After asking around, and did a few wrong turns at wrong junctions, we finally managed to get to the Batak Museum – our first destination of the day.

Batak Museum was a real Batak house which had been turned into a museum. They had put things here and there – and declared it a museum, which it is. On the display is a combination of stuffs, ranging from traditional cookware to clothes, wooden statues and a fleet of artifacts. Dominating the middle section of the house is a King’s bed, which I was told was designed to bed the king only, while the wife had to sleep somewhere else. I found it quite bizarre but I’m sure there must be a reason behind it. Heh.

From the museum, we walked over to the adjacent Tomb of Sidabutar King. I was taken aback by how they forced me to wear a sling shawl, thinking that they might ask for money out of it (but they didn’t and I instantly felt ashamed of myself). I remember how I was forced to wear sarong before I was allowed to enter the Agung temple in Bali, only to find Western tourists strutting their way around the temple in their shorts. Apparently they knew things that I didn’t. Urghh.

The tomb of Sidabutar king was nothing grand (compared to so many other tombs on Samosir island and beyond), but it was placed together with his other members of family and even his body guards, forming quite of a complex of cemetery. But of course the grandness of the tomb does not lie in the structural presentation, but more on the fact that he was the first person (or probably one of. I am sure he did not come alone) to have set foot on Samosir island. He died before Christianity was brought in by Western colonists and missionaries, hence the absence of a cross on his tomb and a few of the others’. But those who have died quite recently have had their tombs adorned with a cross.

Just down the stairs from the tomb was the Batak traditional village, although it was more like a museum now without anybody residing in the houses (I could be wrong). I was told that there’d be Batak traditional dance performances on the front yard if there was sufficient audience but since there was only me and my new-found friend Mr. Loh around, I didn’t see any chance of witnessing any (of the performances).

Having done with pretty much all the things that we wanted to do in Tomok which was not much anyway since neither of us were into shopping, we returned to Tuk Tuk to explore more of this place that I had been calling home for past one week. There was one place that Mr. Loh wanted to check out – a place called Laster Jony’s – a budget hostel that was recommended to him by one of his friends.

Wheeling off to this place had made me realize that there was more to Tuk Tuk that I had yet to explore. Apparently, there were more choices of accommodation on the other side of the bay, and I could see there were more bars and shops. How I wish I knew about them earlier, and not on my last day on Samosir island.

Laster Jony’s apparently a spread of chalets that nestles on a hillside that overlooks the beautiful bay of Tuk Tuk. The fact that there was no room available pretty much cemented the fact that it was indeed popular among budget travelers. There was a bar and a lounge area which was heavily decorated with Rasta elements. A little hello to the young lad who was probably in charge of looking after the bar led to a lengthy conversation about tourism prospects of Danau Toba – which was once at the top of the list of Indonesia’s top tourist destinations before other places like Bali, Komodo Islands and now Lombok took over.

View of the bay from Laster Jony’s

Mr. Loh was very eager to compare the tourism industry in Indonesia with (that of) Thailand, which he said is 30 years ahead. I was beginning to get quite uncomfortable when he kept singing praises for the tourism industry in Thailand, which according to him is very well managed and the reason why Thailand remains the top tourist destination in South East Asia, while hoping that Indonesia could do better than how it is doing now. Although the lad seemed to be taking in all the criticism with admirable calmness, I had to literally drag Mr. Loh out of the place before things got nasty.

We returned to the hostel from there, and prepared to enjoy our last night on Samosir island. Wanting to have a bit of me-time that night, I tip-toed my way to a restaurant called Casa di Manurung and ordered fried rice for dinner. As a bit of tradition for me to have a little bit of celebratory drink on the last day of my travel trip every time (although I still had one night in Parapat the night after), I ordered one big bottle of Bintang – the Indonesian famous local beer to come with the meal.

I was on my second bottle of Bintang when the band group took to the stage and performed a fleet of songs, ranging from local Batak songs, to Indonesian mainstream songs, and even English songs. I was baffled because I pretty much had the whole place all to myself so they were literally performing to me, and no one else but to me alone.

Never had I ever experienced anywhere else before where a full band performed for me without the presence of any other person in the audience but me (apart from the staff members of course). In a way it felt awkward but in another it was quite a privilege. But then, I still felt quite relieved when a group of local youngsters came in later after which I felt free to tip-toe my way back to the hostel and immersed myself in the tipsiness that was beginning to demand for recognition in my sorry head.

It was sad that I would have to say goodbye to the beautiful Samosir island the next morning.

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