Friday, September 24, 2010

Darjeeling Unlimited

40 hours of traveling, 3 flights, a bus ride and a jeep trip courtesy of a 14 year old driver is all it took to get your boy from New Jersey to Darjeeling.  Day turned to night turned to day turned to night turned to day which had nearly faded to night before I finally got to my hotel room.  OMG, but the tea has made it all worth it!

I hadn't forgotten what a wild gal India could be, but I was nonetheless a bit ruffled during the first few hours of our reunion.  But after a few days of her familiar embrace I think I have my travel legs back under me and am feeling good.

This morning I took a hike down to an out-of-the way gompa that houses the original copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  As I'm spinning prayer wheels and doing my gompa thing, a portly Tibetan monk comes waddling down the path, followed by an entourage of followers.  It was clear from his posse that this was no ordinary monk, and sure enough, one of the admirers told me he was "the powerful master, Something Something Rinpoche".  ("Rinpoche", pronounced rin-po-shay, is an honorary title meaning "precious one".  "Something", pronounced sum-thing, is a place holder I use when I can't remember the name of a Rinpoche.)  The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking.

As the locals did not hesitate to let me know, it was an extraordinary stroke of luck that I (the only foreigner) happened to be at the gompa when Rinpoche came to visit.  The lama went about doing his gompa thing, which apparently was much more interesting than mine, since all the local people watched and admired as he did his prostrations and paid homage to the photographs of the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa which adorn the gompa.  Some members of his entourage were very interested in me obtaining the Rinpoche's blessing, going so far as to provide the traditional scarf for me to offer to the lama.  I went before the monk and offered the white scarf, and in return he waived his jedi hands over my head and muttered some words.  If I get nothing else from this trip of mine, at the least I will be walking away with a little strand of red string evidencing that I was blessed by a vajrayana buddhist master.  In the words of Bill Murray, "So I got that going for me, which is nice."

This afternoon I was eating an insanely delicious lunch of navratan korma when a Hindi version of Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon" started playing over the restaurant's radio.  I'm not yet fluent in Hindi, so I couldn't tell, but I can only hope that Boy George's ancient wisdom about karma ("Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams... red, gold and green") was accurately translated.

Tomorrow I leave Darjeeling for Sikkim to do a 5 day trek.  So I'm offline for a few days, but I will be back to tell you all about MOUNTAINS.

Gunga galunga, gunga-gunga lagunga.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bottoms Up!


Since my flight out of the USA is only some hours from now, I am just at this moment taking the big step and advertising this little blog to the world.  So as this post will be at the top for most people's first visit, let me say welcome, and remind you that the way this works is that the newest posts go to the top.  So you should read from the bottom up if you want the full effect, especially since the first post after (before) this one is a saga.  Or don't, and ruin the whole damn thing.

Until asia, enjoy!

BRC to Yosemite: Hitchhiking and Serendipity

Since Yosemite National Park is literally on the way from Black Rock City (the name of the temporary city in the desert where Burning Man is held) to Los Angeles (where I had to go to catch a flight back east), I had planned to spend 3 days in the park before leaving the golden state. Because the four hippie-style painted buses I had taken up to Burning Man were not leaving for LA until early monday morning, it made sense for me to try and hitchhike out of BRC to Yosemite sunday afternoon in order to maximize my time in the park.  

I had to laugh at myself as I stood out on the dusty playa under the weight of my bags, holding a sign reading "395 South to Mono Lake", hoping one of the thousands of cars of burners leaving that Sunday would be generous enough to pick up a stowaway. Sure enough, after about a half hour, an RV pulled onto the side of the road, and a child wearing a dragon-shaped hat popped out of the window and told me to hop on in. And so it was that I successfully hitched my first ride.  

The dragon-capped child was an 11 year old named Izzy and as I dumped my bags onto the floor of the RV, Izzy's father and my new chauffeur, Frank the Hippie, assured me that I had "caught the right ride, man." Frank, a dreadlocked man aged 50, offered me an orange and introduced his other son, 9 year old Dee, who smiled and proceeded to ask question after question about my Burning Man experience.  

It wasn't long until I realized my ride to Yosemite was going to be anything but seamless. As the traffic to leave Black Rock City slowed us to a halt, Frank informed me that he had been having some trouble with the RV, and that the battery might not be able to sustain a prolonged stoppage. As we sat in traffic, I offered to go exploring through the line of cars, and leaving all of my belongings in the care of Frank and the kids, I went searching for a Burning Man volunteer to see if we could somehow jump the line.  

I walked up the 7 lanes of stopped vehicles for about 3/4 of a mile and saw neither a person with authority to deal with our situation, nor an end to the traffic-jam. As I began contemplating walking back to my ride, the cars started moving, stirring up an intense dust storm. With visibility down to about 5-10 feet, I walked slowly back in the direction I had come, beginning to realize the terrible mistake I had made. Not only was I walking blindly through traffic in a dust-storm, without my goggles or anything to cover my nose and mouth, but because it was nearly impossible to see the cars passing mere feet away, there was the possibility I would miss Frank's car and be stranded, choking and blind from dust without anything but the clothing I was wearing. Trekking back carrying a large orange traffic cone so I might avoid an unexpected run-in with a car full of hippies, I cursed my rash decision to leave Frank. Some very kind and concerned burners stopped and offered me a bandana for my face and a jug of water, which I took with intense gratitude. Still, my worries intensified as I was passed by a bright yellow van, a vehicle I had noted on my way out as being behind Frank's RV in the line. Ironically, my only hope now was the Frank's RV had in fact broken down.  

I continued walking and finally, through the dust, I spotted stalled Frank's RV. Rejoice!! As the dust began to settle, the completely dust-caked reflection in the car mirror showed a man who looked like he had bathed in baking powder, laughing and shaking his head. I washed the playa out of my eyes and hair, and went around to see if I could help Frank jump the RV.  

As a New Yorker, I'm about as unfamiliar with automotive maintenance as can be, but I was told our problem was that the vehicle needed a new battery. AAA told us there were 350 cars broken down on the road out of BRC, and we would have to wait. And so we did. On the side of the dirt "road". For 10 hours.  

It was well past dark and somewhere around 2 in the morning when I awoke to spot 4 painted buses I recognized as being from my camp. I remembered that one of my campmates, Lester, had a car battery he had been using on the playa, so I ran across the lanes of traffic and ventured into the back of one of the buses, to the bed that I had slept in on the way up to Burning Man.  

Noah: "Lester... you up?. Lester, wake up." 
Lester: "Huh? What? Noah???" 
Jeff: "Noah??? What the hell?" 
Merriliee: "Is that Noah? Hi Noah!"  

As I messengered a car battery between from the buses that continued creeping up the line towards the exit and Frank's broken down RV, I weighed my options. I could cut my losses and grab my bags and jump back with my camp now on their way out, or stick it out with Frank and the kids. Enjoying the adventure thus far and feeling bad about leaving the family that had been so kind in picking me up, I decided not to leave Frank stranded and alone with the his boys. As I delivered Frank's $90 to Lester in payment for the battery, I thanked him and then watched as my most reliable ride out of Burning Man drove on down the road without me.

Lester's battery was the fix we needed (temporarily) and Frank decided that rather than battle the now 4-5 hours of traffic out of Burning Man, we would return to Black Rock City and spend the night. So after waking up very early the next morning in Frank's RV, we set out once again to leave the playa, only to again, break down on the line out. Trying to keep my sense of humor, I recruited as many burners as possible to push the RV the final mile or so out of the traffic jam (fyi - RV's are heavy!), where we got our final jump and got the RV running down a real, traffic-less road. We were home free!!!  

Until about an hour later when we ran out of petrol gas. While Frank tried to figure out whether the RV was refusing to start because of the lack of gas or the dead battery, I decided our time together had finally run its course. Fortuitously, the gas tank had hit E about 150 yards from a gas station (that didn't carry Petrol), and so every car of burners with California plates that entered the rest station was greeted by a very dirty Noah asking if they were going south.  

After about an hour I had my ride. I felt pretty awful leaving Frank and the kids, especially because the kids seemed so upset about it, but they were getting no farther than Reno that day and I had no choice but to move on.  

Ride #2 was David, Jenny and Valeska from Santa Barbara, who shared not only their functioning transportation, but also a sarcastic-but-kind sense of humor that I could not have enjoyed more. I'm not sure D, J and V were actually going my way to begin with, but they agreed to alter their route to help out a fellow burner in need.  

So I had lost a day, but I was back on track and moving through the mountains of California to a soundtrack of laughs and great conversation. Traveling down 395, David received a call on his cell phone that he said he had to take. As he pulled over to the side of the road so he could discuss without distraction, Valeska pointed out four painted buses that were stopped in an auto-repair shop on the side of 395. Yep. Laughing, I walked back to find my campmates, who should have been in Los Angeles by now. One of the buses had now broken down for a variety of reasons, one of which was a dead battery. A dead battery, they of course no longer had a replacement for, because Lester had sold Frank his. In any case, they weren't going anywhere so quickly, and many campmates, including Jeff, had already checked into a motel for the night.  

Others were trying to find a shortcut home. I had cut across a field to reach my campmates, so I didn't see Lester and his girlfriend Ani who were standing on the side of 395 trying to hitchhike back to LA. I missed the conversation between them and my new friends who had turned around to drive back and pick me up, but I was told it went something like this.  

Lester: "Thanks for stopping. You guys have room for two to LA?" 
David: "Sorry, your spot's already been taken by Noah." 
Lester: "What? By Noah? Like, Noah?? Is he in there?" 
David: "No, we bludgeoned him, left him on the side of the road and stole his bags."  

I must admit that up until this point, I could not help but think that had I only taken the easy route and left with my camp to begin with, or left Frank and jumped back in the buses early when I had the opportunity early monday morning, I would have been in better shape. So while I certainly wasn't happy to see my camp in distress, I couldn't help but laugh at how things had turned out. I gave Lester and Ani a hug, told them to pass one on to my buddy Jeff who was already in the motel, and got back in my ride.  

An hour or so later, we arrived in Lee Vinings, which was where I was slated to say goodbye to D, J and V, as I could stay in a motel and take public transport into Yosemite in the morning. Dropping me off, David was kind enough to look around a bit to try and get me set up, and as we explored the visitor's center, David noticed a man being told he would not be able to camp in the park this time of year without a reservation. As we went back to the car and began unloading my bags, this man asked if we were burners. We said yes, and he revealed that he was also a burner, looking to spend a few days in Yosemite. Well HELLLLLOOOOO Shlomo, welcome to the story!  

Since I was coming off a week of camping in the dusty playa, I had figured I'd be ready for a little "pampering" and before leaving for California, I had reserved in Yosemite a tent cabin with 2 proper beds, since Jeff thought he might be joining for some hiking and nature-loving. Jeff had bailed, and so I had an extra bed to spare. I happened to have the very thing Shlomo needed most in the world at that moment - a place to sleep in Yosemite - and he had what I needed most - a car.  

I had gotten on really well with D, J and V and so was sorry to leave them, but after some smiles and laughs about the whole ordeal, I said my goodbyes and got in the car with my new friend Shlomo for a trip into Yosemite.  

Not only was Shlomo's car invaluable in providing access to portions of the park that would otherwise be inaccessible, but because I was not relying on public transport into the park, it saved me a day. And so I arrived at my Yosemite lodgings right on schedule, with a roommate to share the cost of the lodgings and a new friend to hike with.  

Then I spent 3 days in the park, and it was awesome.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Burning Man

So first stop on Noah's world tour was a dried up lake bed in the middle-of-nowhere Nevada for a week-long festival called Burning Man.  I knew Burning Man was going to be a electronica music infused art festival SLASH party in the desert, but I really had no clue what kind of hippie freakfest I was getting myself into.  Note that  I use the term "hippie freakfest" in the most endearing way possible, because it really was an amazing, unique and magical week on what us burners call the playa.

The most common conversation I think I had over the festival week was discussing with other burners how impossible it is to describe Burning Man to someone who has never been.  It's a bit like trying to describe Las Vegas to someone who has never even seen a casino.  Maybe you will succeed in giving them the mental impression of one of the hotels, but they could not grasp the sheer overwhelming experience that is the Vegas strip.

Like Vegas, the mere sight of the Burning Man playa is simply outside the bounds of a single person's imagination.  Not only do you have no point of reference, but even if you did, the playa is a collaborative effort of 50,000+ artistic and creative minds.  Around every corner is another small piece of creative genius that is part of a greater whole.  So using words to describe BM is a joke, and photographs are a bit like showing someone pictures of a bunch of rocks and dirt and trees and telling them to imagine the mountain from which these pictures were taken.  So everyone comes up with their own way to describe the playa, but my favorite comes from my new friend Frank the Hippie, who describes it as "Disneyland on the moon."

Besides the visual and aural stimulus (I've never enjoyed a better week of music in my life), there's a whole communal element to the festival.  EVERYTHING is free, EVERYONE is open and friendly and kind and honest and contributing to the overall experience.  It's hard to talk any more about this stuff without sounding flakey, so I'll stop there.  My one "criticism" is that Burning Man is a bit of a dream.  A beautiful dream, but a dream still.  It's easy to be open and giving and mindful and selfless for a week, when you are partying in the desert and surrounded by 50,000 others doing the same.  But how we act in our everyday lives off the playa is where the rubber meets the road.

There's a lot more that could be said about the festival, someone could probably write a book (actually, a quick search on Amazon shows there are quite a few).  But I've already said 4 paragraphs of absolutely nothing, so I'll stop there.  If camping in a dusty desert without a shower for a week is down your alley at all, it's something you must check out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Greetings Earthlings.  From the bottom of my lungs a [person] be blowin' spittin his game.  Oh wut up?  Wut up, wut up?!?  Welcome to my BLOG, No-Blog.  Let's get the initials out of the way, shall we?

Hi!  My name is Noah.  As most - if not all - of you know, until very recently I was employed as a lawyer in New York at a rather large firm in what we in the biz call "biglaw"; that is, a shop of a few hundred attorneys.  That was until I decided it wasn't for me, at least temporarily, and I wanted to do a little traveling.  Now I know what you are thinking: A few hundred lawyers cooped up in a New York City skyscraper??  What in the world could be more fun and exciting than that?!?  Well right you may be, but I am determined to check it out for myself.

The Blog and Expectations
So after much internal debate I decided to blog this little adventure I'm undertaking.  If history is any indicator (wut up "Through the Eardrums"), I will be not so diligent about updating this thing.  But hopefully you'll get the highlights and it will be here when I want it, if not when you do.  Too bad suckers, it's my blog, you want more blog posts, start your own blog.  But don't let that deter you from checking for updates!
Also, you may have noticed by my outline formatting and overuse of commas that I write like a lawyer.  So if you know what promissory estoppel is, you're going to love this friggin thing.  Otherwise, sorry bro, deal.

The Plan
There is a loose travel plan, but I'm pretty sure my new friend Shlomo - who you will meet shortly - would be disappointed in me if I were to put it in ink.  And besides, as he says, it's bound to change anyway, so you'll just have to follow along and see where we go.  Surprises!  This blog's got it all!!  Let go and live in the moment Shlomo says.  And so in this moment, my "plan" is to finish my first blog post, continue listening to some amazing recently discovered music (Aeroplane - check it out!), and make my mother happy by cleaning out the closet of my room in my parent's house in NJ.  No more procrastinating Mom, I swear!