What you have to know about India

Its the most dazzling, puzzling, beautifully disorganized, and irresistibly chaotic set of places I’ve ever found myself in. From the ethereal and omnipresence of honking 21st century caravans to since-the-time-of-age camels in Delhi, my James Bond dreams in Udaipur, the withstanding merchants of Jaipur, the holiest place in Varanasi, and of course, to that postcard, desktop image, and posters we’ve all seen, the majestic Taj Mahal.

Hardworking but happy DelhiitesDSC_1377James Bond was here!
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You’re no longer just a desktop background!
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Breaking presumptions about India

1. It doesn’t stink and they don’t all wear Lungis

I took the metro in Delhi basically everyday, except when I’d get home late and its closed. I don’t want to sound unpatriotic, but to break our racial discriminative ideas about India, our MRT smells worse than the metro in Delhi. I’m not saying people from Delhi, or the rest of India, doesn’t reassure me once in a while of what I used to think about it, but its not any worse than the metro in Paris, infact most of them smell great.

They dress ridiculously well. No short pants here and the rest of India lest you want to look like an overgrown boy who never outgrew his age. Dressing up is a form of respect here, partly more for self respect really. You wear short pants/shorts in India and you’re literally looked down upon as an eight year old boy.

Metro in Delhi during rush hourDSC_1257People dress up well here
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Its sweltering hot and they don’t mind

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2. They are scammers

Only if you’re a fool. Scams in India are not so much worse than seasoned frauds in South East Asia. Agree on a price, check the quality, and count your change. Its not so different from Binondo or Bangkok when it comes to getting short changed, hustled or pick pocketed. Like the rest of the world, common sense rules. Which is not so common as I would find out as I got out of the airport, 12:30 am, bought a prepaid cab ticket, short changed by an innocently smiling cashier, hopped in the cab, counted my money, didn’t feel right, got out just before my cab left, got back to the counter and the cashier instantly gave a smile that says “you’re not as stupid as you look after all” and gave me the rest of my change. I arrived in NAIA once and got hustled by a cabbie who wanted to charge me more than what I knew was a generous fee, I got off in the middle of EDSA, not paying him a miserable cent. Sometimes its more about the principle. To be honest, next to Japanese folks, Indians are the nicest Asians. I’ve met the nicest people I’ll probably ever meet in life in India.

3. Food will give you constant indigestion

I love Indian food, I love street food wherever, even so, I experienced a tolerable Delhi belly. Okay. Most indigestions come from unfamiliarity with the spices used in your food than from hygienic reasons, even if you eat in fancy looking restaurants. So when I developed a tolerance with the spices, I had the best time eating whatever I wanted, so long as I see Indians buying food even from the dirtiest looking places, I grab the opportunity and reap rewards. Let me tell you one thing, Indians know how to eat. Follow their trail, never eat in any restaurant or food stall that only serves tourists (its the dirtiest food you’ll eat, trust me), apart from that, have the guts to eat along with white and blue collars, homeless people, holy men and the rest of them. I had my best meal in India from a stall that opened up at 8pm, a 15 minute queue, and worth 10 rupees, about 7 Philippine pesos.

I see a queue and I know I’ll eat well

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My 10 rupee meal!

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A plate of food here looks like an artist’s palette

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What you should know when visiting India

1. Book trains way ahead

Its not easy to get tickets from the Indian website called IRCTC. You have to provide a local Indian number, which, guess what, you can only get in Indian land, even then it still won’t be easy to get one. They start selling tickets 2 months ahead of your planned date of departure. Trust me, its worth setting up an alarm in your calendar for. You don’t want to take a regular class ticket traveling by rail in India more than once. So I suggest you spend a little more for getting a 1/2/3 AC berth when traveling long distance. I missed my train from Agra to Varanassi for a ridiculously rookie mistake, the only way to make it was to get a general class ticket. It was one of the highlights of my trip to India, but I would probably never do it again. Its masochism.

Traveling around India through rails

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Bed for the night

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Mornings in general class compartment

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2. Stay in guesthouses owned by Indian families

For me, the best way to do it is through Airbnb. Read the reviews, if most of the reviews mention anything related to food, book the damn place. I’ve never met an Indian mom who doesn’t cook well, with recipes at least from 3 generations past. Indian moms would never let you out of the dining table without a bursting tummy, so a word of advice, bring bigger sized jeans. if you ever plan on eating your way through India, with all the generous use of Indian butter called ghee, carbo loaded flat breads and those sinfully succulent sweets eventually take its toll.

3. Its all about romance

I made the unfortunate mistake of visiting India alone. PDA is an understatement in India. People make out in every dark corner, an alley, Vishnu knows what’s happening down there. I stayed in an apartment in Delhi and the newly weds on top of my room kept me from ever having a peaceful sleep the moment the husband gets home at around 3am from his call center job. I’ve concluded that Indian structures are earthquake proof because that couple would give it a definite rocking night after night.. I can easily tell you the sequence from my deduction. First there would be loud noises from water pipes, shower time! Then there would be closets opening and closing. A few minutes of gentle but audible movements, then its bring-the-house-down, wake-all-the-fucking-neighbors time. I feel a little bad for the new bride though because from the moment of audible rocking, 5 minutes after, its all silence.

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They say “There’s the rest of the world, and there’s India.” I cannot agree more.

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A movie script ending

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Prologue

5:30 am, your phone rings the alarm you imprudently set the night before you slept, just after you finished your second bottle of wine.

Act I

A smell of certain but distant familiarity in the air as he walks up to her, ever so feverishly beautiful as she sat by the bed, not a word of invite to come close to her because Helen of Troy knows what herculean effort it is not to. His pride takes over his feet and he defiantly walks around the room, pretending not to notice her while she does something in her computer. Did he just see her fingers playfully tuck her hair behind her ear? An effort from her to unblind side her from your vantage point? He over analyzes as he panicked to find something for his hands to play with, buying time to think before the air gets stale and the silence deafening.

“You don’t need to be so damn cunning”, he wanted to say, “Your hair falls differently on your face now”, he said. She looked up, pretending to be puzzled from what he said, but she knew she’s already had him from the moment he nervously grabbed his phone to check nothing, and said, “You notice too many things about my face, but you can never look straight at it.” Damn her, he thought.

He struggles to find courage to come and sit on the bed beside her, realizing how making those two steps can feel like crossing the widest, deepest ocean.

Act II

In bed, shoulders barely touching, he listens to all the new things he missed out on her, years of it. While he struggles to focus on her stories, responding with generic uhums, yes, and exactly!, she reaches in for the bottle of wine beside him, as her bare skin uncovered by her tank top touched his, for a moment, an electric current runs from her skin to his shoulder, sending a shock to the deepest nerves in his body.

“Oh how pleasantly devouring it is to be struck by a lightning! Benjamin Franklin was wrong to wait for it under the rain, it was from her, my heroine.” He thought.

Emboldened by the shock from the current that still runs through his nerves, he stretches an arm that finds its way around her slim neck. A few interminable seconds of nervous silence, to feel no resistance from her and  the sight of a sly smile across her face, he knew he’d just won the lottery. Suddenly, her words became bubbles and the room looked like the sky from underwater.

The night went by as she excitedly continued to talk while he helplessly descended deeper underwater, holding on to her tightly, as if the slightest gap between them would drown him.

Act III

He reaches for the snooze button. Windows all at their pale shade of blue, he turns to look at her, the source of a faint glow amidst the darkness. He delicately pushes her hair back from her face to see what cherubs looks like when they sleep.

He plants a blasphemous kiss, it lands as soft as cotton, but she gives a muffled grunt anyway. Stubbornness was something she never lacked. Even demigods, just like humans, don’t want to be disturbed this early in the morning.

She breathes, warm and alive. She’s human after all.

He rests his head back to their only pillow, facing her, their eyes leveled to each other. Instinctively, he closed his eyes when he saw a slit of opening from hers, afraid it would turn him into a stone when she opens them. Yes, she could be as vicious as Medusa sometimes. He felt movement, and then the unexpected kiss lands on his face. Medusa or not, he had to open his eyes but it was too late, her sleepy arms were already wrapped around his suddenly weakened frame. There has been no embrace emotionally reciprocated more than this.

Finding the strength to overturn her, he endlessly kissed her face as she began to laugh on every tickling kiss that lands. Not a part unkissed, from ear to ear, forehead to chin, every sweet laugh from her an encouragement for him to pursue.

When the alarm rang for the last possible time, and it was time to pull away, he understood that if magnets had feelings, this is what its like every time you pull them apart.

A romantic Moroccan table in Boracay

Image     White sand on your toes should get you giddy enough for your expected visit to Boracay. Visitors of all nationalities seem to be attracted to the sunset view from this island as moths are to the beauty of flame. Aside from its natural beauty, it has a wide selection of restaurants to cater all sorts of taste and cravings. From the famous street food called “Chori Burger” a bun with chorizo sliced in half and slathered in your choice of sweet or spicy sauce, to quality Mediterranean goodies.

Apart from these quality competitive choices, secluded from the rest of the crowd, you will find the only true Moroccan restaurant in the Philippines. Welcome to Kasbah, Flavors of Morocco. Located towards the end of station 1, its far enough from the raucous parties the island is famous for. Its right in front of the beach, so you can enjoy ambient waves, while your toes dig playfully on powdery sand as you gaze on the clear night sky and its silvery reflection on the beach.

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On a special night for my partner and I, who have deeply fallen for the diverse and exotic beauty of Morocco, what better way to reminisce our best moments together than dining in one of the two small tents where you sit on really comfy pillows while you eat on a requested rose petal dotted table lit by a lamp with really intricate metalwork. With a complimentary bottle of rose to ease the flow of conversation, it was indeed tres romantique! We may or may not have secretly gloated on envious stares from passing couples.

As for the food, I ordered a Moroccan staple of a lamb with dried fruits and almonds tajin while my partner ordered a coastal street grub of grilled tiger prawns marinated and seasoned in herbs and spices. “Tajin” being the conical clay pot from which Moroccans put all the ingredients, as they amazingly stew it without stirring, opening it only when its cooked. It tastes sweet from the honey and prunes, while the almond gives a pleasant texture, but the real star is the succulent lamb that explodes exotic flavor in my mouth from every devouring bite.

Drunk and satiated from food, happiness and romance, we bid their extremely pleasant staff good bye and always with much appreciation. As we slowly swayed, carefree along the shore, we were reminded we are still in Boracay after all.

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