Indian Stock Market


164_6445-4.JPGI have been meaning to write this post for awhile, but my recent visit to the BSE (Bombay Stock Exchange) stirred me to action. Anything dealing with Asian emerging markets is extremely appealing to me, so you can imagine how intriguing traveling here is for me. In addition to books and regular newspapers, I have been keeping up on the Indian and global equity markets. On a personal level, this yearning to keep tabs on the markets has confirmed my intuition that perhaps I should pursue a career in the field. Below is my brief amateur analysis of the Indian market.

Indian Growth
One of the first things one notices upon visiting India is its growth. Sure you can read about the near double-digit GDP growth in the paper, but its something else to see the rapidly expanding middle-class buying all the trappings of their newfound wealth (washing machines, refrigerators, expensive cell phones, etc). You see countless infrastructure projects underway from rural highways being built to metros and “flyovers” (overpasses) in the cities. With so much investment going to into infrastructure from domestic IPOs to FDI (foreign direct investment) and a labor oversupply, the only thing that delays these projects is a supply shortage of building materials (steel, cement, etc). Anything that caters to India’s growing middle class or infrastructure is growing big time. Financials are booming as banking services have a huge population to reach and credit is just beginning to be accepted. Telecom is expanding rapidly as internet and phone services on wireless networks become more economical than landlines and computers.

The excitement is everywhere. Every newspaper and tons of billboards display the latest mutual fund offerings IPOs. When we walked down Dalal St (India’s Wall Street), tables had all the offering documents for new MF’s and IPOs. Snack vendors sold samosas and pakoras on little squares of prospectuses, red herrings, and offering documents. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the Jumbotron on the BSE building, showing stock news and the marquee scrolling tickers below it. The news is constantly filled with announcements of new private equity and hedge funds. The stock market is everywhere- you’ll everyone from small business owners to engineers talking about their investments. As the developed world faces the sub-prime crisis, Indian magazines pridefully list the biggest deals of the week and tabulate India’s global M&A (mergers and acquisitions) rank in dollars. This is being driven by both Indian small caps being bought up and Indian industrials buying abroad. Luckily India is a free market with open capital markets, allowing individuals to participate in “the Indian growth story.”


The Stock Market
India has over a billion people and the country’s economy is growing like crazy. Despite this, the Indian stock market is small, relative to both developed markets in the west and even China (to whom they’re so often compared). Most of the companies have relatively small market caps, but unlike most emerging markets there are a ton of listed companies and India is more integrated into the global financial world than even countries like China. For these reasons, the Indian market is both volatile and relatively more correlated to developed markets. However, like most developing nations, a miniscule percentage of the population invests in the equity markets (in fact, up to two-thirds of the population in some states don’t even bank). On the flip side a miniscule percentage of one billion is still in the tens of millions. But the fact remains that India’s growth is largely driven by the small (but growing) middle class and financed by the upper class and financial institutions. (sidenote: I’m currently working on a blog post outlining Indian economic demographics and the 900 million people living on cents a day that aren’t participating in India’s boom).
A couple unique features of the Indian markets. Like many developing nations, commodities are important both because India mines and exports minerals, and because (despite being the second largest producer of most grains in the world) it must import a ton of crops (exporting most grains is banned as well) to feed itself. The business pages don’t just list the spot prices, but multiple closing and futures prices in both India and world commodity markets, for everything from copper to cashews. Lastly, despite being an emerging market, financial institutions here utilize some products of the developed markets. F&O (futures and options) as they call it here, is huge. While I can definitely see the utility in financial institutions using derivatives to hedge in a volatile emerging market, it’s surprising that options are so easily accessible to retail investors (even more so than in the US). Perhaps they are hoping to make easy money in an economy growing incredibly fast, 8-10% GDP growth per year. However, short-selling is not yet allowed, although there is talk it will be introduced soon and the bond market is still not nearly as liquid as developed markets. Nearly every bank offers brokerage services/accounts and products such as mutual funds.

In a nutshell: booming, volatile, upper-crust driven, focus on raw materials and infrastructure, increasingly complex (development of derivatives, shorting, and liquid bond market).


The Bad News
So with so much growth, why not throw all your money into Indian stocks? Well for one, you cannot (unless you’re an NRI). There’s 12 Indian ADR’s listed on American exchanges and only a handful of MF and ETFs. Furthermore, most of the ADRs are IT/BPO, with two banks, one auto company, and a pharmaceutical. Worse still, they often trade at premiums to their real prices in India. Two, the weakening dollar is killing IT companies and exporters. So you may see some weakness in those historically very strong and important sectors. Three, valuations- opportunities to buy good companies in this growth environment are far and few between. Four political risk. India has enjoyed the same stable government for the past three-plus years. People blame the Left for keeping India’s GDP growth in the single digits, but if they follow through on their threat to pull out of the coalition government, the Left would do a lot worse and the markets would take a big hit. In addition to all this, the Indian stock market is extremely volatile, in part because it doesn’t have a liquid bond market to absorb economic shocks. Thus, even if you are a multimillionaire or have some Indian blood (NRI), investing in India now may be risky. India’s economy and infrastructure (in particular) will continue to grow feverishly. However, looking ahead, the rising rupee, rising valuations, and political turmoil are brewing quite a storm for the equity markets. The Indian market is still a long-term buy and should have huge growth, but its going to be a bumpy ride.



164_6445-4.JPGAfter wandering around rural central India for the past week, arriving in Mumbai was quite a shock. Emerging from the British-built Gothic CST station, complete with gargoyles, we found ourselves in the heart of south Mumbai. Adequately paved roads and even sidewalks, no rickshaws, legions of commuters (many in suits), the ocean. Being in Bombay was much like being in Western city, except populated by Indians of course. It’s India’s financial epicenter and a showcase for its modernization/Westernization.

We decided on a place in Colaba (the most touristy district of Mumbai), due to its close proximity to Mumbai’s “sights.” The neighborhood we stayed in was predominantly Muslim. Besides little circle hats, long beards, kurtas, and Urdu signage, it was cool because Ramadan started midway through our stay. All the Muslim-owned restaurants closed during the day, while the prayer room across the street was still busy throughout the day. The kebabs and tandooris were excellent, while seafood was widely available as well. Interestingly though, the food was also my first insight into the cities liberalization. Beef was available at a few Muslim-run restaurants, while Goan restaurants often offered pork. The restaurants had alcohol on the menu, while I glimpsed the first real bars/clubs I’ve seen thusfar (in India on this trip). But there were other signs of the liberalization as well. Taking a sunset walk along Marine Drive one night, we saw dozens of couples holding hands or with an arm slung over another’s shoulder. I guess cultural liberalization follows modernization, or is it the other way around?…still not sure.


(unrelated sidenote: could Lee get away with an add like this in PC America?)

Besides all the British architecture and modern buildings, Bombay has few attractions. Exploring Chowpatty beach was interesting, with tons of food stalls and cuddling couples. I heard it’s a nasty place, but it seemed okay to me, perhaps because we saw it at night, its dinginess covered. Another interesting thing was that Ganesh Chaturthi (The Ganesh Festival) began on our last night there. Beginning late that last night and throughout our last day, Ganesh idols were paraded through the city by families. Usually the family was accompanied by several drummers and some kids lighting off firecrackers. The idols were taken to homes, only to be immersed in water (the ocean, a lake, etc) at the end of the multi-day festival. While the modernity of Bombay, the beginning of Ramadan and Ganesh Chaturthi, and sociological observations were all interesting, I think we stayed in Bombay a couple days too long. We explored the city, saw a few museums and checked out a few traveling exhibitions, but Bombay doesn’t really have that many attractions. Its just one of those cities that seems like a great place to live, but not to visit as a tourist.

Central India

164_6445-4.JPGOne of Joylani and my hopes for this trip was that it would be a scouting trip of sorts. We could explore the world and discover which regions we really like and hopefully return to explore further in the future. Perhaps even identify cities we could possibly live in the future. Early in the trip, Joylani knew she wanted to see more of Denmark, while we both have a desire to see more of Greece and Turkey. Our recent jaunt through Madhya Pradesh has convinced us not to visit MP again, and by extension most of central India, again. It’s not a terrible place, as I enjoyed visiting Khajuraho and Orchha this week (and other cities on past trips). But the cons outweigh the pros and having seen a lot of central India already, I am fine with not exploring further. Compared to the rest of India, I don’t think it offers much. It’s hot. Nearly all of India is hot this time of year, but MP is really hot. Then there are the bugs, mentioned in other posts. I am not really a squeamish person when it comes to that sort of stuff, even if they’re dropping in our food, etc, but it’s obviously not preferable.

Then there’s the endless number of people that want to talk. In the cities and touristy areas, there’s a ton of people that try to talk to you and get your money or business. That’s fine, because we can just say no/ignore them/walk away. But in rural India, there’s an endless amount of curious and/or friendly people that want to chat. Now before you label me as a scrooge, let me explain. I’m fine just having a friendly conversation with a couple strangers a day. But when two dozen people a day just want to chat about where I’m from, where I’m “really from,” how I like India, and a million other small-talk topics, its annoying. And if anyone sees my camera, they want me to take a photo of them. Not of us, just of them. People that don’t even speak English ask for “aik snap.” I have no idea why they want me to take a photo of them, but villagers always ask me to. I feel bad saying all this, because I know they’re just being friendly, but sometimes I want to say, “If I wanted a photo of you, I would’ve asked you” or “Can’t you see I’m eating, talking with someone else, reading, etc.” I can see how famous people get pissed off at reporters or even just common people that try to talk to them.

Besides the weather, bugs, lack of infrastructure, there is the limited selection of food, accommodation, and general goods and services. Ladakh was simple, but at least it was unbelievably beautiful. Dusty towns, rural villages, and fields of agriculture all make interesting scenery on a bus or train. They’re even okay to stop in for a bit and look around, but they’re not the kind of places I enjoy staying for multiple days. My advice for anyone that visits Central India: see the Taj Mahal in Agra, and do a quick circuit of Rajasthan, UP, and MP and don’t stay in any town for more than a day or two. Just my opinion.

Flying Hoppers



joylani-thumbnail.JPGAs I write this there is a gecko staring at me from the ceiling corner in our room.  Matt and I have named it “Croc” as it looks like a pale, stumpy version of its much more intimidating namesake.  The Croc is the least of our worries.  Apparently Central India, or at least the last two towns we’ve been to, is prime bug territory.  In Khajuraho the main problem were these little crunchy bugs, about the size of a flea.  When I say problem, I don’t just mean 10 or 12.  The light in hotel lobby had a swarm of them mingling on the wall, and there were dozens of casualties in our room.  In addition to the crunchy bugs, a walk in the street at night revealed hundreds of black, ladybug-sized beetles on the sidewalk, and looking up at the street light you could see a cloud (i.e. much bigger than the normal swarm) of various sized flying insects. 

Last night on our way back from dinner in an old palace, we were accosted by mutant grasshoppers.  Unfortunately because of where the restaurant was located, we were a short way off the main street and had to go through a couple courtyards to get back to the road.  We navigated our way through the grasshopper gauntlet, not sure what was worse: the lit parts where there were more hoppers flying through the air, or the dark sections where we couldn’t see the stray hopper until it was on us, and where the stairs and other obstacles, such as poo and frogs, were also difficult to see.  They are about 3-4 inches long and big enough that it’s too gross to squish one because it would crunch too much, etc.  Luckily for me, Matt received the brunt of the attack as we quickly made our way back to the hotel.  (I had planned ahead for bugs and was safely wrapped up inside my scarf at the time.)  When they hit you, it’s not just a little tickle sensation like with a fly, but there’s actually a little “thwack.”  Somehow one of them got into our room.  Matt discovered it when it hopped up on his leg while he was resting on the bed.  He was able to trap it with the waste basket and take it outside.  Phew! 

Sleep is a lose-lose situation.  It’s so hot that you don’t want to wear much to bed, but if you got that route you face a greater possibility of getting bitten.  I go the safe route and wear pajama pants and a shirt, sometimes long-sleeved, and even socks (those bites on your feet are the worst!).  It can get a little sweaty, but my comfort comes from knowing I am shielded from future bites and not itching from ones from the night before.  Matt is still learning, but he is slowly realizing that maybe wearing sandals out at night or sleeping uncovered is not such a good idea when we’re in buggy areas. 

The whole bug situation has gotten us both paranoid, swatting at things that aren’t there, taking a second glace at shadows.  Just now I had to move a backpack that was lying on the bed to get something.  I didn’t realize it, but one of the straps was under Matt’s tummy and as I slid the bag towards me it spooked him.  With a look of terror on his face, Matt kicked up his legs and flipped over so fast that I wasn’t sure what was wrong.  A second later I found out.  “I thought it was a least a small snake or a centipede,” Matt said.  A small snake?!  Obviously we’re becoming delusional and definitely need to go to a less buggy area!  In the mean time, I’m still debating on which is worse: Godzilla Spider or Mutant Grasshoppers.  Even though there was only one of them, I’m leaning towards the spider.  What do you think?




164_6445-4.JPGThe bus ride from Khajuraho was infinitely better than the bus ride there. This is mainly due to the fact that we made sure to catch one of the two government buses that departed Khajuraho daily (of five total). Although the bus was in worse condition than the one we arrived in and it seemed that it literally just fall apart every time we hit a bump or pothole, it was much more comfortable. We stopped picking up passengers once the seats were full, we only stopped a few times, and we departed and arrived on time (which is a miracle for any bus in India, nice or not).



MP Highway


Dusty Indian Town


Typical Bus Stop


Common scenery in MP


Our relatively nice bus

            A small town of only 8000, Orchha was easy to navigate. The town had about a dozen budget hotels, all extremely basic. Having traveled with Joylani for a few months now, I knew the number one thing to look for in a room was possible bug-entry points. We settled on the cleanest of the limited selection of rooms. I was glad we did because Orchha was full of insects. From dusk onwards, the town was filled with giant grasshoppers and crickets. Like 3-4 inch grasshoppers that were everywhere. They’d fly through the air and smack your legs, torso, and head/neck. We tried to eat at indoor places for dinner, because we’d be attacked by grasshoppers otherwise. It was like a movie or something, the number of grasshoppers. Luckily in our room, only one got in, which I was able to get outside. Other than that, I only killed a handful of crickets and a few mosquitoes (although they got me good). I think the extremely fat gecko in our room took care of the rest.


ruins in field


villagers crowding around a stall to watch a movie


windows in Orchha Palace


Orchha Palace


Renovations at Orchha Palace

            Aside from the bugs, Orchha was a cool place. It was extremely small and kind of boring, but the ruins were cool. They were everywhere and could be seen in every direction; towers rising out of fields of crops, crumbling walls and ramparts all over the hills, as well as the preserved ruins in town. Even the preserved ruins were in a state of disrepair, which had its pluses and minuses. On one hand, the ruins are really ruined, with barely any of the original colors, decorations, or even details left. On the other hand, its cool because they aren’t restored and they’re largely still undiscovered. Grasses and plants growing out of the domes and walls, lime-green parrots and man-sized vultures (Orchha had BIG animals) nest in the tops, and bushes block entry to many doors. Up on the ramparts (several stories high), Joylani and decided not to walk on several of the walkways, as parts of them were crumbling and other parts had fallen completely off. Plus, the ruins were not very touristed and we had the place largely to ourselves to explore. We saw one other foreign couple and a half-dozen Indian tourists the whole time we were there. It was incredibly cool.




164_6445-4.JPGKhajuraho’s temples were awesome, the town a tourist trap. Arriving in the remote town of 15,000, we were besieged by a crowd of rickshaw-wallahs and hotel touts. We checked out several before agreeing to two nights at what appeared to be the cleanest of the overpriced group. I could tell my frustration from the day was showing, when the reception at the guesthouse commented, “I think you had long day. Long and tiring day of travel.” Right he was. We discovered the restaurants in town were equally overpriced, charging double or more than average prices elsewhere in India. I figured everything was overpriced because the town mainly received packaged tourists who flew in (as the bus ride discourages many other travelers). Besides the ridiculously high prices, the touts and salespeople in town were some of the most persistent and annoying I’ve ever come across. Anytime we answered “no” to a shawl, ride, restaurant, etc, they would respond, “later?” or “okay, maybe tonight then.” The exception to these guys was the one young guy who asked if we wanted internet, when we were looking around for an internet café. It turned out to be great, not just because it was what we were looking for, but the connection was fast and the speakers were playing Marley (rather than the usual screeching old Bollywood tunes). We discovered why he like reggae so much, as he asked if I wanted to come back later that night for some weed and beers. The last thing unique about the town were the bugs, which I’m sure Joylani will write about, so I’ll skip that part.

            The temples were not just a highlight of Khajuraho, but the only thin worth seeing. But they were definitely worth seeing. Constructed and carved out of sandstone in the 10th through 12th centuries, their mere existence was impressive. Not just the fact that they still stood after so many years, but the relief work was unbelievable. Bands of carvings wrapped around each temple, every wall and surface covered in stories and pictures. Despite the fact that many of the carvings depicted scenes of daily life or religious figures, most of the subjects were nude. And this is where the temples derive their fame: the myriad of erotic scenes depicting women and couples. Most of the figures were actually women in suggestive forward or rear-facing poses. The most prominent theory on why the so-called Kama Sutra temples were decorated as such, is that the builders wanted to create something so pleasurable that the gods would never destroy it. Today lighting rods run from the peak of each temple down the ground, just in case the gods ever do try to destroy them. Overall, the architecture and carvings were amazing and the carvings entertaining and interesting at the least. I won’t try to describe the scenes as I’ll do a poor job and its embarrassing to write about, but here’s a few of the tamer photos.






I’ve also created an “X-Rated Ruins” gallery, which includes some more Khajuraho photos, as well as some funny sex statues we’ve seen on this trip:

            On a less comical note, for me the temples fell somewhere between the Athenian Acropolis and the Mayan’s Tikal (as far as temple complexes go). Tikal was much larger than Khajuraho, but the construction was much simpler and the decorations less impressive. However, Joylani reminded me that they were built 500 years before Khajuraho and each successive Mayan ruler destroyed or built over his predecessors buildings. Yet, the Athenian Acropolis still seems to overshadow both, with both its overall design and smaller details. The scale, building materials, and aesthetic appeal keep it at the top of my list. To take this whole tangent even further, I wonder why all these temple complexes were built in the hottest places. This morning was just as hot and humid as the morning Joylani and I spent exploring Tikal in the jungles of Guatemala. And the day we visited the Acropolis, the thermometer hit 105 F. Not sure why people built amazing things in the heat, but I do know that I can complete my “Great Temples of the World Review” once we hit our next ultra hot and humid destination and see Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.    

Delhi to Khajuraho



164_6445-4.JPGToday was a mix of the best and worst of India. We awoke early and walked to the train station to catch our 6:15 am train. Even at that early hour, the AC of our chair-class car felt good. With chair-class tickets on the express train only marginally more expensive than 3-teir AC tickets about other trains, we splurged on the all-inclusive chair class. As we got under way, the attendants first brought us our choice of newspapers. As we headed south, our express train breezing right through most stations, we were next treated to morning tea: pitcher-thermoses of hot water along with trays of tea bags, sugar packets, cream, and biscuits. It was relaxing; after a two day bus ride from Leh to Manali, a 17 hour bus ride from Manali to Delhi, two nights in chaotic Delhi, this train ride was the most comfortable thing we had experienced in a week. Between sipping our tea and reading our papers, we watched the landscape outside change from urban to rural. Heading south across the Indo-Gangetic plateau, we passed through hours and hours of greenery. I had forgotten how even central India was extremely verdant, the center of the subcontinent filled with green. After so many bus rides, it was nice to look out the window and not see any traffic or dingy roadside towns.

Even without the pampering that came with our tickets, riding an Indian train is one of my favorite experiences. There something nostalgic train travel. Although I wasn’t around for the so-called “golden age” of travel, this style of train travel seems to be a throwback to that glorious era. Yet train travel is not a novelty here, its still necessary, prevalent, and uniquely Indian. The stations are fascinating in and of themselves. Passengers milling around or sitting huddled on benches with their families and luggage. The overcrowded tickets counters full of pushing, shoving, and shouting. The multi-lingual touts assaulting disembarking tourists, while red-coated red-turbaned porters rush at local families stepping down onto the platform. The beggars wandering and tapping at peoples’ elbows or collecting plastic along the vacant tracks. The food stands simmering with hot chai and samosas, served in clay cups and squares of old newspaper. Of course, you experience a bit of the station every time the train stops at one, as the chai-wallahs and snack-wallahs come shouting through the cars. Train travel is convenient in that way- food and drink always offering themselves, reading material and other goodies at each stop, a bathroom in each car, garbage cans, comfy seats, smooth rides. Train travel is the best way to travel.

As our train passed through Taj-famous Agra and past the plateau fort at Gwalior, our train traded tourists for Bombay-bound businessmen. We hopped off at the insignificant town of Jhansi, a quarter past 11, and a half hour behind schedule. Unfortunately, our late arrival meant we missed the 11 am luxury bus to Khajuraho, which had just departed from the train station (and since when does anything leave on time in India anyways). So we caught a rickshaw to the bus station, where we bought two seats on the 11:45 local bus. We considered staying in Jhansi for the night or seeing Orchha before (instead of after) Khajuraho, and catching the luxury bus the next day. But with my past difficulties getting to Khajuraho (that interesting story here) and Joylani’s consent to take a local bus, we decided to just go for it.

So we’re sitting on the bus at 11:30. 11:45 passes. Then noon. Joylani decides to wait outside, where its supposedly cooler. 12:15. I’m still sitting on the bus. 12:30. The bus is almost full, which I assume means we’ll be leaving shortly. 12:45. Joylani gets back on. The seats are filled, but tickets continue to be sold. Dozens of people have filled the aisle. Aside from these standers, several people discover that their seats were sold to multiple passengers. 1 o’clock. A few men yell at the ticket-wallah and demand their 2.5 USD back, citing, among other reasons, they paid for a seat someone already was sitting in and the bus was one and half hours late. 1:15. Despite being overcrowded and the seat disputes not yet settled, the bus leaves. 1:20. Joylani and I switch seats, so I can protect her from the two butts that face us from the aisle. Thus begins my daylong mission of trying to keep our seats and personal space to ourselves. Between a people trying to get some standing/breathing room, multiple people bumping my head with their elbows, a baby’s bright pink-bottomed feet on my forward-leaning back, several fat women inadvertently leaning on me while trying to lean against my seat, and the ticket guy trying to get me to move, it was a tough day. Being a private bus, it stopped every and anytime someone waved at it from the road. The ticket guy kept letting more and more people on, now matter how squished we already were. These stops were, of course, much shorter than the handful of times we stopped for food and goods to be loaded or unloaded from the roof; entire branches of bananas, crates of bread, sacks of grain, and so on. It was a hot, crowded, and miserable ride. Most of the people were poorer and lower class, evident from their clothes and etiquette (or lack thereof). There were three other foreigners on the bus: two Japanese girls and an older European women. About an hour from Khajuraho, hotel touts boarded the bus and swarmed all of us. Drenched with six hours of sweat, Joylani turned to me towards the end of the journey: “I never want to ride a bus like this again.”


looking forward


looking backwards

I did not share her sediment to that degree, but today tested my patience more than any other day yet this trip.

In Delhi Again

164_6445-4.JPGWe have done a lot of traveling since my last post. After catching the opening festivities of the Ladakh Festival, we embarked on a two-day bus ride back to Manali. The bus was more comfortable than a jeep in the sense that we didn’t feel every single bump, but it was still bumpy and the road just as curvy. And while we did not cram the whole journey into one long day, our quick night in basic tent accommodation was not too relaxing. The only real advantage to taking the two-day bus was that we got to see a lot more, as we drove during daylight the entire time. And our eight million 30-minute smoke/bathroom/chai stops were pretty annoying. But all that being said, I didn’t have runs, nor did I barf or get the runs. So although we arrived in Manali nearly 35 hours after we left Leh, I had some things to be thankful for. And exactly 24 hours after stepping off our bus from Leh, we stepped onto another bus for Delhi. This one was only 17 hours, but the entire road was paved and the road straighter.

While tiring, the long journey south was interesting. One thing that I dislike about air travel is that you don’t get to see the geographic, climatic, or demographic changes. You just step into an aluminum tube in one city and then out in another city. But coming from Leh, we saw the majority ethnicity morph from Ladakhi to Punjabi, religion from Buddhist to Hindu, climate from super-dry and cool to super-humid and hot, and the geography from alpine desert to conifer forests to tropical hills to urban plains. Joylani and I agreed today that being in Delhi makes Ladakh seem like another country, which it would be if it weren’t for the Brits (as would most Indian states for that matter). Seeing the diversity and moving through it was an interesting aspect of the journey down.

Although a shock when we arrived a month ago, Delhi has been a refreshing place to return to this time around. After a month of nothing but Indo-Tibetan menus, we treated ourselves to Subway yesterday and McDonalds and Pizza Hut today. I enjoy Tibetan and Indian food, but not for a month straight. I cannot wait until we get to the coast though for some delicious seafood. Besides the food, Joylani and I have taken advantage of the cheap internet and phone rates (about 1/10 of prices in Leh). And we’ve restocked on toiletries and necessities too. And while we’ll depart Delhi tomorrow morning, its been just enough time to rest and restock.

One Month in India

164_6445-4.JPGToday marks one-month of travel in India, and the third-world for that matter. It’s been an interesting month for both Joylani and I, albeit in different ways. And contrasting our experiences to the prior month of travel through Europe is even more insightful.
For me, this month has helped me realize how much I enjoy traveling the third-world. Those that know me may say I like traveling the third-world because I can, because it is cheap. I am frugal, but I don’t just like India because it’s cheap- there’s a ton of amazing places to see and everyday I see something pretty unbelievable. However, I’ll admit that the inexpensiveness is only appealing due to the fact that we can do so much more. And in light of my belief that the third-world offers equally, if not more (all of South America, Africa, most of Asia, and large parts of Europe), cool places, then it’s obvious why I like the third world. Basically I think the underdeveloped regions of the globe offer premium attractions at a discount. Europe was great- we went to a ton of amazing places and saw awesome things. But consider that during all of August, we spent only about 60% of what we spent during our last ten days in Europe. This is not to mention that during those ten days, we stayed in the cheapest hostels and hotels, while trying to buy most of our meals from grocery stores, while in India we’ve been relatively free-spending, staying in mid-range places, and eating every meal in a restaurant. But like I said, it’s not just about the cost- we’ve seen some unbelievable stuff this month.
But the third-world also has its drawbacks, mainly which Joylani notices. It’s crowded and polluted, standards are lower for just about everything, and western luxuries are rare. Joylani misses washing machines, while universal availability of hot water would please me. Although in the absence of constant electricity, we have learned that if the lights go out in an internet café, you have 3-5 seconds to save what you are doing before the computer shuts off. In all seriousness, it would be nice if we and the people living here had all these conveniences, but I think we can still learn a lot in their absence. What follows is a brief summary of an ongoing dialogue that Joylani and I have about our experiences:
Traveling the third-world/without luxuries/simply is good for a few reasons. Firstly, in a purely educational sense, we’re learning how much of the world is and more importantly how much of the lives. This is really broadening our perspective of the world and deepening our understanding of its inhabitants. If we see how others live, it’s much easier to identify and empathize with their needs. Secondly, it increases our thankfulness in two ways. One, as western travelers in India, we support a lifestyle well beyond the means of the majority of Indians we meet. Even if we don’t like our dinner or our hotel room, they’re still better than what most enjoy. And for that, we must be thankful. And two, even our relatively luxurious travel here is below our everyday standard of living at home. So now, having lived here, how can we not be thankful for the luxuries of home? It increases our appreciation of what we have.
Yet beyond shifting our paradigms and increasing our thanks, third-world travel can help us grow as well. The proverbial saying that money can’t buy happiness is true, but how often are we tested on that? We’re actually being tested if we can be happy if there’s absolutely no food we like for any meal. Can I be happy when there’s no hot water when it’s cold out? Can we be content in an environment we find continually uncomfortable? For us, I think we’re redefining many of our needs as wants, as well as learning to be joyful/happy/content is a wider variety of situations. I think Gandhi was right when he said, “A man’s wealth can be measured in what he can live without.” I’m not advocating being an ascetic, but I think it’s good to be thankful for what we do have while finding our joy/happiness/contentment outside the material world.

The Ladakh Festival


joylani-thumbnail.JPGThe Ladakh Festival takes place every year during the first fifteen days of September.  We waited an extra week for this, and even though we only stayed for the first day of festivities, I think it was definitely worth it.  The program consists of: polo matches, archery, and traditional and religious dances, singing, and costumes.  On the opening day there was to be a parade through town that ended on the polo grounds.


After breakfast, Matt and I headed up to the polo ground to make sure we got good seats for the show.   We were able to get the best seats in the tourist section in terms of photo opportunities, but found out that we would have to wait longer than we expected for the festivities to begin.  Even though the schedule stated the event was to start at 10:00am at the polo ground, it really meant that was the time the parade was set to commence.  The parade wouldn’t reach the polo ground until at least an hour and a half later.  And so we waited.  We watched as the different sections filled—a platform for the monks, chairs and tarps for the tourists, tarps and the wall for locals, and the important people in the community there were couches and upholstered in the shade in the stands, complete with name cards showing who was to sit where.  Painters finished the festival sign on one of the buildings.


A group of men put the final strands of decorative garlands.  We spotted the geology professor we met on the shuttle from our hotel to the airport in Finland (he was on the same flight to India).  I got antsy and bored and decided to go back down the hill to watch the parade, while Matt graciously stayed behind to save the seats.  After watching most of the cultural groups go by, I discovered that watching the crowd was just as, if not more, entertaining.  Everyone was so engrossed in the parade, that they didn’t notice me watching them and sneaking in a few photos.  I loved seeing all the little kids bundled up in sweaters and knit caps.




The parade was made up of different cultural groups from various villages with the closest thing to a float being a truck that was carrying some monks and a large photo of the Dalai Lama.  Each group was preceded by a few drums and a flute player, and occasionally they would stop to do a quick dance.  The traditional dress that people were sporting was amazing.  After three weeks of passing by different souvenir shops through town, I was finally able to see real people wearing the hats and jewelry the way it was meant to be worn.




After watching the parade for a while I headed back up to the polo ground, knowing I would have an opportunity to see all the groups again when they entered the polo ground.  When they finally made it, the empty space around our seats was swarmed with tourists and their big cameras, each one wanting to get the good shot, and in the process getting upset at the ones who managed to get in front of them.  Having a chair in the front gave Matt an advantage, and luckily he wasn’t too affected by the enthusiastic photographers.  After all the groups paraded into the field, several speeches from various tourism commissioners and festival chairs were given, and then several villages performed for the crowd.  All in all it was a good day, and a nice end to our time in Ladakh.