Wednesday, May 25, 2005

INDIA | Delhi | Agra | Jaipur

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India-Delhi- Landed to Delhi Indira Ghandi Internation Airport after a very pleasant, four hours flight from Bangkok. First impression: heat blast, Swedish sauna. People are sleeping on the sidewalks. This place looked like a gipsy airport stuck in a sauna. Amazingly hot, humid, dirty and the outside street lights (or lack of) make it look I was walking on a movie set in Nabu.

I picked up my bags and decided to do the same thing as I did in Thailand, put one bag with a “left luggage” service. First I stopped by the local mobile telephone company to buy a SIM card for my phone. I found it to be very helpful to have a local phone number even if staying just a couple of days. The security officer on the airport pointed out to a barely lighted structure across the main parking lot. As I was walking out, I was approached my at least 30 people trying to sell me a ride to any destination.

I walked in to the building with no signs, with a single light bulb. No one was there. The only thing you could hear is a ceiling fan and the visibility was very limited as well. Behind the desk I've noticed a man sleeping on a bench. Flies were everywhere. One huge rat squeaked and run from one end of the room to another. I’ve seen some old dusty bags there but it did not appear as a left luggage service at all. As I turned around, two men walked in. They asked if they could help me with anything. I said I was looking for a left luggage service but I was probably at a wrong place.

They woke up the sleeping man behind the desk. He looked up very slowly and asked me what I wanted. At the same time many bad thoughts we going through my mind. What the hell was I thinking? Leave my bag in a place like this! No way. He said, this is left luggage service sir. How many bags do you want to leave with us? I wanted to get out and find my way back to the airport but I was very tired and decided to leave my heavy bag full of presents and other unnecessary items there. I had no lock on my bag as well.

In the background these three men spoke like they were fighting. I asked then where to look for a cab. Shortly there after, another man with mustache showed up out of the dark and said he was a taxi driver. He took my other bag and we walked to his cab. I am not even going to describe the mode of transportation this was. It would take a whole separate blog. Taxi this certainly was not.

My plan was to spend few days in Delhi, see the Red Fort then make my way to Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur, the pink city). I was woken up by the taxi driver when he suddenly turned left from the main road to this dusty street in the middle of nowhere. Total darkens, no sounds, just occasional car passing by on the next street. The taxi driver quickly got out of the car and said he needed to talk to a man in the office to see the road conditions or something. I was getting nervous so I stepped out of the car, took my cell in one hand and a first rock I could find next to me. This smelled fishy to me. Next minute two men came out and approached the vehicle. I was on the other side. The car was between us. They saw my one hand with a cell phone making a dummy call. One man asked, “WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?” I looked at the driver, raised my voice and said, “JUST GET ME OUT OF HERE!” I will not pay you a rupee is we do not leave now. I was so angry and afraid at the same time.

Alone.

It was 3:30am. The man realized that I was aware of their scams and that I made enough noise that few houses turned their light on to see what was going on outside. My “taxi driver” got in and silently invited me back into the car. I was furious. He dropped me of at the city center, Connaught Place. All hotels were packed, so they say. Finally, one hour later I was so exhausted that I had to settle in another are of New Delhi. Believe me, there was nothing NEW about it.

Now I know why so many photographers take black and white pictures here. This place is so dusty, dirty and poor that b/w pictures come out the best. I guess. Beggars are everywhere. It was sad for me to see all this. I thought it would be different. I was expecting a culture more similar to Myanmar (Burma). I couldn’t sleep that night. I was thinking how lucky I was in my life so far, or was I? The next morning I went to the main train station in Old Delhi and got myself a ticket to Agra. I was hoping to get out of this place as soon as possible. I wish I had a helicopter to film thousands of people on the station. It felt like I was in a movie filming trains on their way to concentration camps in Germany. The main difference was that these folks here had absolutely nothing on them. Nothing at all.

Train to Agra was two hours late but the station officials said that the train is late every day. Agra is about 6-7 hours by train from Delhi. The Taj Mahal was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, whose death in childbirth in 1631 left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey overnight. His son imprisoned the emperor and later buried his father next to his wife inside the Taj. I stayed the entire morning and took few pictures. I am just amazed how such a magnificent palace can be built in the middle of nowhere. I mean, lets be real here. I would say, if you want to see it, fly directly to Agra and spend only one day there. Avoid traveling in India in summer time.

Next morning I was on my way to the pink city, Jaipur. While I was waiting for the train I’ve notices rail workers moving some rails in the middle of the day. I stepped down, took some photos and purchased drinks for the entire group. Cute little four years old girl was playing with me while I was waiting for the train. I bought her some street food and took some pics.



see the girl from agra album here

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Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan state. It is known as the 'pink city' because of the Maharaja order in 1853. He wanted to honor British Prince Albert so he decided to paint all the walls pink. The Rajputs associate the color pink with hospitality. This was the best part of my travels in India. I’ve met few folks on the train to Jaipur and we went out sightseeing together. Unlike Agra, Jaipur is very colorful with Indian textiles one can see in the western worlds everywhere. Next day I went to see the cobra dance, textile factories and dinner in a local PIZZA HUT! The next thing was amazing.


beggar jaipur train station india

see the album here

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While walking on the street by the bazaar, I stumbled upon a old man selling cool rocks on the side of the road. If you know me you would notice that ware a big silver ring without a stone for years. I kneeled down, randomly put my hand on his little pile of rocks and picked up a peace that fitted perfectly into my ring. It was almost like an illusion, a true déjà vu. I gave the old man 200 rupees and walked away staring at my new ring. It was amazing.

On my way back to Delhi I’ve met a Spanish lady on her way to Delhi. She wanted to buy stones in Jaipur and resell in Spain. A Tibetan monk, her friend picked us up and helped me find a room for the night. Next morning I picked up my bags from the “left luggage” and I was no my way to South Africa.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Thailand | Bangkok

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OK. Last night was weird. While going through the immigration in Sydney, I met Name. Name is his name. His parents are diplomats in Australia so Name was going back home to Bangkok after 6 weeks. We exchanged friendly smiles and were off to the aircraft.

Initially, my plan was to go to Koh San road but Name suggested that I join him and his friend on a night out. I left my bag in the "left luggage" and packed few things to my carry-on. We walked out of the airport and Name's friend was waiting with a brand new, black Mercedes. I was very curious to see what will the night bring.

Even thought I was absolutely exhausted, I had to accept the offer to join these guys out. I wanted to see what a real "Thai night out" was. Half an hour latter we stepped out of the car. The name of the night club, First Class, was shining in the blue-purple neon lights. We were greeted by the valet parking staff, reserved table; bottle of black label and a Thai band on the center stage. People dancing everywhere. I felt I was in a martial arts movie.

The place was very impressive. For a moment I thought I was in some place in Washington. First Class reminded me of the old Cities restaurant/bar in Adams Morgan. Anyway, First Class was great but I was craving some good and spicy Thai food so the boys took me out for dinner/breakfast. It was pouling rain outside. The UEFA cup soccer finals were on the big screen. We were drinking vine and Thai beer. CSKA won the cup for the fist time in history.



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Next thing you know, I was in the cab to Koh San road. Checked into a cheep hotel and passed out. Woke up few hours later in sweat. The room had no windows and no AC! Amazing. I guess I was to drunk and tired the previous night to notice. The following days I went to see some Thai temples, the Wat Po (huge reclining buddha) and had some amazing food on Koh San road.
Since there are some major problems in Nepal these days, I've decided to go straight to India. Now, this was absolutely amazing...

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Friday, May 20, 2005


Cheers to Igor, Dejan and Louis from Khaosan Bangkok!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Australia | Fraser Island

SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND

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PHOTO ALBUM - VIDEOBLOG (15mb)

FRASER ISLAND -My cousin Savo and I drove up north 300 kilometers to a small township of Hervey Bay. Just before we entered the town we stopped by the Go-Cart place to have some fun and shorty after we checked in our backpackers hostel next to the port. We looked into many different options how to get to the FRASER island. Hervey Bay is the gateway to Fraser and many travelers start their journey here. We chose to fly-4wd-fly package.

Fraser Island is the largest sand-formed island on the planet with a 75 mile long sand beach, many creeks and fresh water lakes, rain forest and the purest strain of DINGO in Australia. The Fraser Island is on the World Heritage list as well.

Anyway, 15 minutes later Savo and I were flying over the most beautiful beaches and lakes I've ever seen. Savo was a co-pilot for the duration of the flight. We landed our little airplane right on the beach and our 4WD was waiting to take us to our first destination, Lake McKenzie.


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Lake McKenzie is about 15km inland from the coast but it took us about 35 minutes to get there. While other travelers were sunbathing on the fresh-water sandy beach, my cousin and I decided to take a hike and walk around the entire lake. Following the Dingo tracks, it took us over two hours and this adventure included some bush-walking, survival message writings in the sand and swimming in the fresh water. It was amazing.

After lunch we drove up to the Indian Head point, about 70km north from out base camp. On the way up we stopped by the rusty old shipwreck and climbed a moon landscape alike dunes. This is for real. I am not kidding. The dingo's were everywhere. Well, I guess I am exaggerating but we did see few dingos hunting for a snack:). Next thing you know it was getting dark so we had to get back to our resort since night driving is not allowed on the island.

The weather was not on our side the following day. It was very cold and raining. Savo and I took our fair well drive and almost got stuck on the island due to a 4WD battery failure. Thanks to a local fisherman we managed to start-up our vehicle and made the flight back to Hervey Bay...

PHOTO ALBUM - VIDEOBLOG (15mb)

SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND

Australia | Brisbane

SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND(w)
SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND
PHOTO ALBUM - VIDEOBLOG(25mb)

With Garden State soundtrack music in my ears, I am writing this into my diary while flying back to Sydney on VirginBlue. The roaring sounds of the jet engine adds another soundtrack to my ears as I think of my visit to Brisbane. What to say. It was to good to be sad, surreal for a farewell cry. I could only smile while leaving the sunshine state. Long lost family ties recovered; family united. Genuine love I've experienced and only a fool would not go back for more:) Thank you for the most wonderful time I could possibly have. No worries mate!


PHOTO ALBUM - VIDEOBLOG(25mb)

SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Australia | Blue Mountains

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PHOTO ALBUM - VIDEOBLOG (10mb)

BLUE MOUNTAINS -Covered by the misty blue clouds from the acacia trees evaporation, the Blue Mountains are very interesting formation similar to the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale. This national park is about two and a half hours from Sydney and it is worth a day trip or even a weekend destination. I've seen my first 'roos in the wild here...

SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Australia | Sydney

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SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND

SYDNEY-Where to start. I've been enjoying Sydney for almost one full week. What a beautiful city. I could probably spend my entire vacation here. Sydney has one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. The hostel that I am staying in, EVA's Backpackers is located in Kings Cross area, one of the best hostel I've been to. It has an open kitchen, free internet and a fabulous view of downtown. King's Cross has for a long time been known as a red light capital of Australia. In recent years, I have learned that this area turned into a vibrant part of the city with many tourist accommodations . There are many strip clubs, adult bookshops, tacky nightclubs as well as trendy cafes and restaurants.

On my first day here in Sydney, I walked out of the hostel and walked up to the main street. I felt like smoking a cigar so I entered the tobacco shop hoping to find a nice COHIBA to celebrate my first day on the smallest continent. Then I hear a familiar language, of course the ladies working in the shop, Milena and Vesna, have recently immigrated to Australia. I stayed chatting with the ladies for an hour and then went down the street to get some chevapchici! OK, so this is kind of weird.?!? After dinner I went back to the hostel and had few drinks with other world travelers.



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Next morning I went to visit my father's side relatives about one hour west of Sydney, suburbs of Liverpool. I took a train from Kings Cross and arrived to Cammbramatta station where my family was waiting for me. I had some great home-made food including some chicken noodle soup, baked potatoes, then some lamb and pork roast(pecenje) and a wonderful home-made cake for desert. The following day I fueled up with ham and eggs for breakfast back at Kings Cross and shortly there after I was on Sydney Express, the tour bus that almost every big city has. Hint-this might be a good business for big cities in former Yugoslavia. Anyway, I stepped out of the bus in Sydney Chinatown and a delicious Fish Teryaki for lunch. My next stop was the famous Sydney Opera House. Wow, whatta structure. I've got inspired and spent few hours up-close-and-personal taking hundred of black and white shots which you can see on my photography blog.

SYDNEY - BLUE MOUNTAINS - BRISBANE - FRASER ISLAND



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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Fiji

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Bula! (hello in Fijian) Last Saturday night, April 23rd, 23:30pm PST, I left the US soil and took off to the land of cannibals, Fiji. Fortunately the flight was half empty so I was able to spread my legs and take the entire middle row (4 seats) and sleep the entire flight. Eleven hours later I landed in Nadi, the only international airport in Fiji. Then I realized that it was Monday, April 25th. I totally skipped the April 24th since I crossed the date line during the flight and will continue my journey to the west. My eyes will never see April 24th. This day is gone forever! I passed through the customs without any problems, (even when I declared my PowerBars) and the hostel minivan was waiting for me at the airport with the most beautiful rainbow in the background welcoming me to Fiji.

I checked in and had some breakfast. Shortly thereafter, I booked a half-day trip to the highlands to see the native village about two hours in the mainland. This was absolutely fantastic. The volcanic scenery was stunning! Before we entered the village, the driver/guide, advised all travelers to remove hats and glasses since it is prohibited in the village and it would really upset the village chief. The village chief welcomed us and our little group entered chiefs home.

The guide gave the chief some KAVA as a gift and his daughter made us some to taste. We walked around the village while the chief talked about his little community. Then we hiked to the nearby waterfalls for a swim. This place reminds of of Adonis waterfalls in Cyprus I have visited back in 2001. I took some amazing pics and short films but the Internet connectivity is quite slow so I will upload when in Australia. Today, I am on my way to Mana. Mana is a small island on the west side of the big island, Viti Levu. For the next three day I plan on seeing the Castaway Island (from the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks), and perhaps some diving and snorkeling.


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...after a very hectic run from the hostel to the port of NADI, about 20 minutes away from the backpackers heaven, I managed to board the "SeaSpray" ferry servicing the Mamanuca and Yasawa Groups of islands. These island groups are about 40-50 miles east of the big island of Viti Levu. This was a perfect introduction to the true meaning of the phrase "Fiji time". It took us hours to get from one tiny little island to another. Locals were dropping off produce and picking up water, cases of beer, bread and other goods. It felt like being on a old world exploration ship.

Next thing you know, we were closing in on the island of MANA, my destination for the next tree days. We were welcomed by the beautiful sounds of the local guitars and harmonic voices singing the welcome song on the jetty. Both man and woman wore white or red flowers behind their ears. if the flower is behind the left ear it means that they are single and right ear that they are married or in a relationship.At first, the hostel looked like a refugee camp but shortly thereafter my opinion changed.

The positive energy of the locals certainly contributed to make my stay so wonderful. The island of MANA lays on a 32 acres of land, most of it is leased to a Japanese investor who has built a luxury resort on on the north side of the island. Most locals are working and quite happy to have a job. The other side of the island is where two tiny little villages are located as well as two youth hostels. The funny thing is that most operations in the hostel I stayed in are run by "mama Martha". Mama greeted me and gave me a scoop of the activities on the island as well as the day trips available.

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Mama Martha is a wonderful woman with the biggest smile on the planet. While she was talking to me, her voice sounded like a whale song. Seriously. I made few jokes and were were best friends for the rest of my stay. The rooms at the hostel were not much, no AC and power but all three meals were included in the price. This makes a big difference since there is no store on the island. The food was great including toast, marmalade & butter and coffee/tea while lunch and dinner included local specialties with fish, beef or chicken.

Anyway, the following day I booked a day trip to the MONURIKI island. One of my favorite movies "Cast Away" with Tom Hanks was filmed here few years ago. As usually, mama Martha arranged the trip and called Blizz, the captain of the little fishing boat, to accompany my on this trip. Few others from the hostel decided to join my on this venture and we were on our way. The first stop, YANUYA, tinny little island about 2 miles from the Castaway island. We need to see the chief and pay him the entrance fee first. At the time he was absent so Blizz gave money to his wife. Few minutes later we were drinking KAVA in the village community hall and buying local crafts. I purchased some KAVA and had few bowls with local man (see video).

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I was so excited to see the Castaway island. Blizz took us back to the beach and we were on our way to MONURIKI. Few minutes latter we were there, in front of this magnificent, untouched island. One side of the island is facing the coral reef where Tom injured himself while attempting his first escape from the island. This side is where the cave is located as well. His best volleyball friend "Willson" use to hang out on the rocks near by. On the other side is the most beautiful, postcard photo beach, amazing for diving and snorkeling. There are no facilities on the island so if you needed to go, it would be behind the next coconut tree:) .

Now, this is where the unbelievable part of the story begins. On our way back, I talked to Blizz, our captain, that it would be nice to build something on the island since there is so much tourist interest to visit this place. I gave him few ideas of what i would make of it and he nodded and agreed that it would a good and probably profitable business. The next day I was snorkeling, trekking around the entire MANA island and just enjoying this little paradise. When I came back for dinner, I talked to mama Martha about the Castaway and shared my ideas about the development opportunity. Blizz came along and I discovered that he is the grand son of the chief that owns the island. After dinner we had some KAVA and I collapsed in bed before 9pm.

In the morning I talked again with mama Martha and she expressed that Blizz might want to introduce me to the CHIEF and discuss my vision of the Castaway island. I did not think much of it but as I turned around, Blizz was walking toward us and set down for a chat. He said "You can meet the chief". He said "many people wanted to talk to my grandfather about MONURIKI but he rejected to talk to them as soon as he saw them. I think that he might like you Sini." Mama Martha said, "You need some SEVUSEVU if you want to meet the chief, that is the old way. The chief likes the old ways." Sevusevu is basically a gift to the chief, showing respect. Mama suggested that I buy some KAVA as a sevusevu. I bought their entire supply from the shop and the next morning I went back to YANUYA to meet the chief.

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7am, had a quick breakfast, some coffee and helped Blizz to fuel up his fishing boat. We were off to to the sea. The sea was rough and I was nervous. What was I thinking...Not to many people get to experience talking to the chief in his hut. Not to many people get to feel this rush. I guess I am the lucky one. One hour later we were on YANUYA, chief's home island. Little kids were playing in the sand when we arrived on the beach infront of the small vilage. We took of our shoes and walked into chief's BURE (hut) and I announced myself, BULA! Chief set down facing me, about 2 meters away while Blizz was sitting on the other side. I presented the chief with the sevusevu and he chanted in local Fijian for a minute. I said that I wanted to talk business and smiled. Blizz quickly translated and the chief looked me strait in the eyes for a brief second and said something to Bliss. Bliss said "the chief welcomes you to the village and he said that we can talk". I said to myself, I guess I will not be thrown out of the island afterall.

This is for real. I am not kidding. I set there with my legs crossed "Indian" style or whatever, ugghhhh...I was in so much pain since I am not use to sitting this way but I wouldn't move, I had to respect Fijian culture. I was in trance, sort of frozen in time. Seconds were passing like years. Blizz's' voice woke me up and said, "now is time for you to talk. This is the opportunity for you to tell this chief what you envision for Monuriki." I went on and explained that the island of MONURIKI is ideal for a luxury resort in a typical Fijian style with a restaurant and a supermarket to accommodate both overnight guests as well as the daily visitors. I also said that I would put in solar panels, Internet, satellite TV and other high tech goodies as well. I explained that the diesel generators they were using are creating much noise and it is very expensive for their standards.

The chief never looked at me the during the entire conversation. Later I've learned that he asked Blizz about my profession, family, and nationality and why I would leave it all for Monuriki. I expressed my interest and desire to contribute to the community rather then being a money hungry investor, which is aboslutely true. I fell in love with Fijian culture, people and this tinny island instantly. I explained that his village and all mamas would benefit from the development and they would be able to afford to buy a bigger boat for transporting goods to the mainland. This was just like a dream from my childhood, playing the "pirates" game with my friends. In the end, the chief looked up and thanked me for coming and said that we should continue talking.

When I returned to MANA, mama Martha was there waiting for me with a huge smile, hopping to hear some good news. I then realized that I did have the good news and that chief liked me and that I need to me in a bi-monthly contact with him. Moma said, "on the next meeting you need to bring a sperm whale tooth." In Fiji Islands, whale tooth has the highest value and in the old days it would be a measure of wealth. So, if chief decides to invite me over for the second round of talks I must bring a whale tooth. Next thing I think...Ebay.

Quick boat ride to the main land, taxi to the airport and I was on my way to Australia.

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