You can’t place Azerbaijan on a map? Doesn’t matter, go anyway. It’s really nice.

This is the first picture I took in Azerbaijan.


What could possibly be interesting about this picture? To you, probably nothing. To me, it was amazing. Cars stopped to allow pedestrians to cross! A kind of civility I had not seen in a long time. But as a matter of fact, the country has a reputation for poor driving habits and a high rate of traffic fatalities. This only shows how everything is relative and a matter of perspective.

I didn’t know much about Azerbaijan before visiting. But I joked with my girlfriend that after a month in India, I would almost certainly like Azerbaijan no matter what.


The contrast was more than extreme! A city with sidewalks and pedestrian streets. They don’t smell like urine. People throw garbage in garbage bins. Cars drive for vast distances without ever honking. Young women walk in the streets after dark, unconcerned about getting raped. After weeks in India, I could not believe the utopia that was Baku and I walked around with a constant stupid grin on my face. People probably assumed I was a little deranged.


Despite the fairly cold March weather, a lot of people were walking around in the beautiful parks. I saw many people walking about with no apparent purpose, so I am guessing that just “going for a walk” is a popular activity. The city is certainly designed and maintained to make it pleasant. On a side note, you may notice a woman with a head scarf in the picture. Despite the country being around 95% Muslim on paper, it is a very secular place and this is a highly unusual sight. Maybe the only one I saw, aside from some Turkish(?) tourists. In fact, in school and universities, head scarves are banned. Most old women wear them, but that is not a Muslim thing at all, just an “old Soviet woman” thing. Any convenience store, grocery store, restaurant or cafe will also have all the beer and vodka you can drink in stock.


Honestly, if I said: “Look at this nice picture I took in Brussels”, you would believe me, yes?


Even the KFC looks nice! Continue reading

The Best of India: the “Golden Backslash”

Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal.


Complete with a stray dog, for that extra Indian feeling.


There’s no debating this, it is a beautiful building, even partially covered in scaffolds. It was also built by a smart architect, Ustad Ahmad Lhauri. The dome was very difficult and expensive to build with 17th century technology. So the 4 minarets are slightly crooked, leaning 3 degrees outwards. The idea is that in case of a massive earthquake, they would probably not fall on the dome.


The fountains only run when dignitaries visit. You would think that with 8 million paying visitors a year, they could afford to run the pumps all day, but no.




The huge amount of stone inlaying might explain why it took 20,000 workers 20 years to complete the building. Continue reading

Amazing New Delhi: The City that Never Sweeps

So, after my visa run in Nepal, I was back in India, much to my despair (if you don’t know why I write this, you haven’t read why I hated travelling in India). That being said, I will only complain for a few short sentences. Collectively, Indians are very aware of the challenges they face. At least the educated ones. While having breakfast, I found two articles in the same paper addressing two of the things I disliked the most about the country.


1) Terrible driving habits. Said the senior Indian official: “I was travelling from New York to Washington and I was surprised to see that for several kilometres there were no traffic cops at any junction but the traffic was still moving without any interruption. It can happen here too…” Now that’s the spirit!


2) Lack of public hygiene. “That India has little time when it comes to cleaning up is a no-brainer”, writes the editorialist.


In the end, it’s really a problem of mindset. This is next to some Army Officer’s Mess. There is plenty of open space around. There are roofs, etc. I mean WTF! Clotheslines dudes! CLOTHESLINES! Who wants a towel that dried on the sidewalk?

Ok, enough. Some touristy stuff now.


The Tomb of Humayoun. I had never heard of it and I expected nothing. I was very impressed. It’s a beautiful site not to be missed. The dude was an early 16th century Muslim Emperor who ruled at various times of his life parts of what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.



He was either a very small man, or they really packed him tight in there. Continue reading

My second trip to Nepal. Or being at the right place at the wrong time.

First of all, a milestone. This is my 200th travel story. I didn’t count them, but I number the folders, so I know. Soooo many trips…

As I mentioned before, I came to Nepal for an Indian visa run. It was the best option, despite the fact that this was perhaps not the best time to visit Nepal. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nepal, but a multitude of factors contributed to making this stay difficult, some of which I did not expect.

Of course I knew about the terrible 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people. There was actually a fairly strong aftershock when I was there, around 5.4 in magnitude. I am rather unafraid of earthquakes, almost certainly stupidly so. I looked outside to see if people were panicking and went back to bed. In the news, I read there were only a few people injured, mainly tumbling down the stairs trying to rush out of buildings.

In most places, the aftermath was not visible to a foreigner. Of course to the Nepalis, it might still be apparent in that the vacant lot I was looking at used to have a building on it.


But scenes like these were rare. The Nepali are not afraid of hard work, so I guess a lot of clean-up and repair has occurred in the last 7 months.


The one place you could easily observe it was at monuments of historical importance, as obviously, tearing it down and rebuilding is not an option. Several structures around temples were being shore up like this, pending more serious repairs.


The disaster left 3.5 million people homeless, and tent cities can still be seen around Kathmandu. In the countryside, I also saw lots of people living in a basic hut located next to a pile of stones. Obviously, the piles of stones used to be their houses.

A more recent, man made crisis, is the critical shortage of fuel. In a nutshell, Nepal has a complicated, conflictual relationship with its main trading partner, India. Also, border tribes are unhappy about recent constitutional reforms. As a result, both tribal groups and India block most of the fuel from transiting into the oil-less nation. India denies doing that, but if they are not, then all the fuel trucks entering Nepal must mysteriously disappear, abducted by aliens, because they certainly don’t make it to the petrol station.


A line of buses waiting for fuel. If I understood correctly, only public transportation vehicles can get fuel at petrol stations. Private vehicles are entirely reliant on the black market, where prices exceed US$2 a litre. This might seem like a bargain for my Norwegian friends, but it is extremely expensive for impoverished Nepal. The Chinese are partially stepping up, but fuel exports through Tibet must cross the Himalayas, which is expensive and always a little precarious. I know, I took that road a few years ago (very nice mountain pictures along that road BTW).

Intercity ground transport in Nepal comes in 3 forms. Local buses, which are dirt cheap but terrible. Tourist buses, which are 10 times more expensive but OK. And private taxis, which are 50-100 times more expensive, but nice to very nice. During my last visit, I took the tourist bus to Pokhara. But because of the crisis and lack of tourists, most tourist buses we not running, so I had to rely on very expensive taxis. And again because of the lack of tourists, I never found someone to share them with. Once, I thought of taking a local bus, but I chickened out. I felt a bit like a wuss, until my taxi caught up with said bus.


Never mind the comfort, it’s just not safe. Although when it’s not raining, riding on the roof is fun. Continue reading

Mumbai in 5 star hotels. Let’s call it: “India light”.

I flew to Mumbai to meet my girlfriend Michelle, who had business in India for a few weeks. This pulled me out of the world of cheap little hotels and into the international standard I was also used to when I travelled for work. What I was not expecting was that the official airport taxi driver did not know where the hotel was. He asked two other drivers and they didn’t know either. He drove off and stopped at a little office near the exit of the airport and emerged apparently confident. We did get there. This often happens to me, especially when I stay in very small hotels. I usually look on Google map and find the nearest important business, hospital or park as a reference. But I never thought to do that for a 5 star hotel.


I mean this is the hotel! 37 storeys tall, on top of probably the poshest mall in all of India! Michelle’s theory was that people who stay there would never set foot in an Indian public taxi. She certainly didn’t. The hotel sent a car and driver. In the high-end malls we visited, very few Indians took taxis. They would not walk to the parking, but rather to the exit, cell phone in hand, and their driver would pick them up. Due to the salaries for low-skill work in India, basically if you can afford a nice car, you can afford a driver.


The mall was connected to two smaller malls (not as fancy, but OK), and the space between them had been fenced off. This meant that once you went through security screening to get into one, you could go to the other without further screening. In other places in India, we experienced the annoyance of having to go through 3 airport-like security screenings in 10 minutes. But I am not complaining, as the threat from Islamic terrorism is always very high in India.

We did go for a walk to buy some beer. Of course the hotel had some, but the markup was about 1,000%. In fact, the prices were the same as in any 5 star business hotel in the world, despite being in a country with such a low cost of living. It was similar to the time I stayed with a friend who was on business in Bucharest. Since alcohol is taxed in India, the markup was not even as much as for the food. Basically, for the price of a bowl of soup at the St-Regis, I could eat 10 meals in India. Maybe 20.

198---03This is what liquor stores typically look like. Rules differ by state, but the ones I saw tended to be Government-run. They are mostly as creepy as this one. You can’t go inside and you order through iron bars. Uninviting is the mother of all understatements and you really feel like you are doing something wrong by going there. “I’ll have a pound of heroine please”. They are also generally scammy and will quote inflated prices to foreigners.



If something goes wrong in your life and you end up in India, you should know that it is the only country in the world that has a system of “Maximum Retail Price”. This is a beer I was sold at a much larger such government store, where you could walk in. The clerk didn’t take it from the main fridge but reached under the counter and gave me this one. The small piece of label missing is where the price is written. The next day I went back and the same thing happened. I asked for one with the whole label and then I did what I never do. I made a gigantic scene. It was rush hour at the liquor store and here I was, slamming my fist on the counter, screaming vulgar insults at the clerk at the top of my lungs. He was quite petrified – not sure by what feeling – trying to pretend I wasn’t there, even though other shoppers were in stunned silence themselves. I have absolutely no doubt that I embarrassed myself more than anything else. But: a) I couldn’t care less. b) It was fun. c) He gave me my 20 Rupees back from the night before.


Then I realized the mall had this store! Probably the nicest liquor store in India. I think it was called Living Liquids, but the LED sign changed to a Bud advertisement when I took the picture.

I loved the Palladium Mall. The great thing about it was that it was located in a business district, not a touristy area. So if you spent the money to live there, you could avoid a lot of the unpleasantness of India, without isolating yourself from Indians. You were just around wealthier Indians. I mean look at that place: there are young woman walking around alone! You would never think you are in India. I would lounge in Starbucks reading the news while Indian women chatted and teenagers studied for exams. And at the table next to me, an elderly businessman was giving feedback to a young manager about the plan she had come up with for some business meeting. I pretended to keep reading the news while I listened in and discovered the differences and similarities of how to pitch something to a potential business partner in India vs North America. My most pleasant moments in the country. Continue reading

For 96 hours, I thought Kolkata was the filthiest city in the world. Then I went to Varanasi.

If you missed my first India post, you should read it. Kolkata was disgusting, but Varanasi was much worse. Garbage all over the place, all the streets smell of urine, mangy, flee-infested stray dogs everywhere, but now with the added benefit of lots of cows shitting in the streets. And people collect the shit to dry it and use it as fuel. So it may only be visible on your shoes, but rest assured it is also in your lungs. Oh, and lots and lots of human corpses. You read correctly.


These are holy cows, so you might think they live in a nice holy pasture. But they don’t. They live in a holy garbage dump, where they eat holy garbage.


River tour, very early in the morning, by small rowboat.


Before dawn you might spot some women. But these will be older women. You won’t see 16 year old girls prancing around in the Republic of Rapistan (if you think I am being a jerk, read my previous post about the situation of women in Rapistan. I mean India, same link as before). BTW, India made Canadian news again this week. 15-year-old Indian girl dies after being raped, set on fire. 


Later, you see lots of people, but mostly men. It is problematic for many women to go in the river, because the river is not in their homes, where their owners keep them all day long.


If you take your dirtiest clothes and wash them in the Ganges, they are guaranteed to come out dirtier.

To Hindus, especially devout Hindus, bathing in the river is some sort of spiritual cleansing. But while the river may indeed be full of spirit cleanser, it is also full of raw sewage, rotting human corpses and industrial effluent. Unfortunately, for many, the religious significance of the river results in complete disbelief that anything could be wrong with it. Continue reading

I went to India. And I absolutely hated it.

If you have been following my travel stories for a while, you know that I generally like to present positive things about the countries I visit. Sometimes I can be a complete jerk, like when I went to Burundi, but usually I’m not. If you just stumbled on this page randomly, you will probably think I am an ass who should only travel to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. So be it.

I procrastinated a lot because I didn’t feel like writing this story, but I just can’t avoid the most important aspect of my month – almost – in India, which is the fact that I hated every day I spent there. Of course, India is a massive country and I only went to a few places. But I can say that Kolkata (former Calcutta), Varanasi and Delhi are cities that I hate with a passion. Mumbai is a city that I hate mildly. If I had to rank the 115 countries I visited in order of how much I like them, there is no way India would be close to making the top 100. Probably not the top 105, and I have been to some pretty horrible places.

The Republic of Rapistan

The first reason I hate India is the situation of women. If you ever read the news, the first thing that comes to mind when India is mentioned is, obviously, rape. India is a never-ending source of headlines like this one, a few weeks ago: “15-Year-Old Rape Victim in India Seeks Medical Treatment, Is Raped Again at the Hospital”.

In 2011, the Thompson Reuters Foundation polled 213 gender experts to determine the most dangerous countries in the world for women. India came in 4th, behind Afghanistan, the DRC and Pakistan. And #1 and #2 and #3 have major internal conflicts. At least it can pride itself on having narrowly beaten Somalia. Presumably because of this, you don’t see many women in public. I think the situation is somewhat better for women of higher socio-economic status, but as a tourist, you will only see these women in fancy shopping malls, where they go by car and driver. You know, so they don’t get raped on the way. And on the way back.


This is a typical scene in the Mumbai subway. All dudes, everywhere. Creepy, rapey and overall completely disgusting. Add a roadside bomb here and there and you might as well be in Afghanistan. Housekeeping in hotels, waiters in restaurants, all men. You will pretty much only see men, everywhere.


Some trains have women-only carriages. Mumbai even has entire trains that are women-only. These are guaranteed to be 82% rape-free, 8 times out of 10, or you get 15% off your next trip.


A sign advises women visiting the mall that they should use stones and flower pots to defend themselves. I had to Google “eve-teasing”. It is an Indian euphemism for “being a sub-human degenerate fuck who deserves to be blood eagled on the town square”. If you don’t know what “blood eagled” means, don’t Google it. Your life is much better without knowing. My point is, if you think women should stay at home or be raped if they go outside, you absolutely deserved to be horribly tortured to death.

At some point in the trip, I went to buy train tickets for Michelle and I. After reaching the station, I returned to the hotel and rented a car and driver. Michelle asked me what changed my mind, so I showed her this picture and asked if she would like to go to the station’s enquiry counter while I kept a look on the luggage.


She agreed with the car idea. But truth be told, there is a totally fine tourist ticket office at Delhi’s central station. What changed my mind was the fact that the station smelled like piss everywhere. And yes, there are toilets and yes, they are free. Continue reading