Friday, February 27, 2009

Cinderella, Indian version

Original version:

Once there was a beautiful girl who was tortured by her step mother. When her stepsisters went to the ball, she stayed at home crying at home. A fairy appeared and turned her into a Cinderella's rags into a gorgeous gown and sent her to the ball and asked her to be home before midnight for the spells would break after midnight.

In the ball Cinderella forgot about the midnight thingy until fag end and keeps dancing with the prince, who would have fallen for her. At the stroke of midnight, she realizes that she had quit, she loses her glass shoes and runs away from ball before the spell breaks.

The prince collects the glass shoes and tries it on all young women and it fits in to Cinderella's foot. They get married and live happily forever.

Moral of the story: Beauty is a treasure, but graciousness is priceless.

Indian version:

Once there was a beautiful girl who was tortured by her step mother. When her stepsisters went to the ball, she stayed at home crying at home. A fairy appeared and turned her into a Cinderella's rags into a gorgeous gown and sent her to the ball and asked her to be home before midnight for the spells would break after midnight.

In the ball, while Cinderella is dancing with the prince, Sri Ram Sena enters the ball and beats her up black and blue for dancing. They just dont stop at her, they beat all the other ladies in the ball, including her stepsisters giving an alibi that they're defacing the culture by drinking and dancing in the ball.

Sri Ram Sena is criticized by all the intellectuals and news channels and some ladies start sending them Pink Chaddis.

But the poor Cinderella is bruised so badly that even the fairy couldn't heal her wounds and the prince disagrees to marry her.

Moral of the story: Irrespective of your beauty or graciousness, stay away from pubs/bars in India if you're a lady.

Second Leg of Somewhere Back In Time Tour, Monterrey

Third time, I happened to see the Gods. They flew all the way from New Zealand to host their second leg of Somewhere Back In Time Tour. The venue was "Estadio Universitario", the University Stadium of UANL. I had never been to an open stadium concert and the feeling was out-of-the-world. After being frisked from top to down for guns, ganja and cameras we were allowed inside the stadium at 5.

When we entered the stadium, Lauren Harris, like always, was begging to see hands in the air and to her dismay except for those few in the front nobody ever gave a damn to her music. I think Bruce should seriously think of letting her board Ed Force One, next time. We made our way to the outermost, rather topmost place of the stadium. The scenery was great, Cerro de las Mitras on the right, Chipinque mountain range in the front and the proud Cerro de la Silla on the left. It appeared as though, the concert took place amidst these 3 mountains, had there been no stadium walls on the surroundings.

After Lauren Harris, American death metal band Morbid Angel played. They sounded noisy to me, for I didn't know a shit about the band, but they were successful in setting up an insanely hyperactive mosh pit containing all the scary looking stoned and drunk metal-heads. Then came the English death metal band, Carcass. I had listened to their album Swansong a couple of times, but for that I didn't know much about them too. They were a lot better than Morbid Angel and got a better crowd response and made the mosh pit more violent. They gained an impressive crowd response by few Spanish phrases...the frontman howled:
Me encantó Monterrey (I loved Monterrey)
Me encantó Mexico (I loved Mexico)
Muchas Gracias Cabrones (Thanks MoFos)

After them were a bunch of jokers who called themselves Atreyu. It was indeed funny to watch them perform, especially the front man. He attired himself with a brown tee, jeans and white sneakers and kept marching along the stage, which would have put the strictest soldier to a shame. He strode with impeccable uniformity in his steps from one end of the stage to another, did one of those Vishnuvardhan-esque gesture to crowd, turned around 180 degree and continued his stride to another end which ended with the same Vishnuvardhan-esque gesture. Had Bruce seen his stage presence, he would have cauterized the word "ATREYU" on that jokers bum with a cudgel and taught him how to behave on the stage.

I kept wondering if there were no decent heavy metal bands to open for an epitomist heavy metal band like Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden is not a death metal band and all it's openers except the prima donna, Lauren Harris, were death metal ones. Atreyu, I felt was the oddest one out; they're better off playing covers of Bon Jovi and not to open for Iron Maiden. I don't know who decided to have these bands open for Maiden, for they're altogether of a different league. Nevertheless after Atreyu walked out after being booed out by empty bottles and middle fingers, I was glad that all the crap was over and it was time for Maiden. It took exactly 40 minutes for priming the stage and testing the sound.

The stage went dark and a melo solo started...the crowd which was sombre till then magically came to life. It was a familiar solo, it was how most Maiden concerts started with...Doctor Doctor, one of their b-side tracks started hitting the airwaves. We knew it was coming.

The screens were turned on and Transylvania started with the video of Ed Force One in air, Bruce piloting, their arrival...immediately followed by the World War II clipping with Churchill's speech. The stage was still dark, the riffs of Aces High started and there was a sudden flash of fireworks and opulent lighting and Bruce was at his best in delivering the track to 40000 strong metal army.

The setlsit was as follows:

Doctor Doctor
Churchill's speech

Aces High
2 Minutes to Midnight
Children of the Damned
The Trooper
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Phantom of the Opera
Wasted Years
Fear of the Dark
Hallowed be thy Name
Run to the Hills
Iron Maiden

The Number of the Beast
The Evil that Men Do

During Iron Maiden track, a classical eddie from the backstage made it's appearance in the air and during The Evil that Men Do, a modern robotic eddie walked around the stage and as usual the guitarists played around Eddie. There were some brilliant pyrotechnics and stage settings, which lacked in first leg of their tour. The setlist was pretty similar to their 2008 tour, with a few additions and deletions. I would have loved to listen tracks like Flight of Icarus, Still Life, Running Free, Drifter, Murders in the Rue Morge or Prowler in place of Hallowed be thy Name, The Number of the Beast, Fear of the Dark, The Trooper, which I feel are too hackneyed for seeing them third time.

The hot chick close to me, overdosed with alcohol or something, she started puking the beer out of the stadium...probably that's the world record for someone puking off that height. She disturbed us for a while. The lady next to me, was the best in lot. For 6 long hours, she was the most immobile thingy in the whole concert...even the chairs vibrated at times, but not her. To her it probably seemed Obama talking about world matters and doomsday or something, she was abs-f*$kin-loutely emotionless and motionless. And there was this couple next to us, who made me realize the metal can turn people on; while the whole crowd was banging their heads, they were groping and fondling and kissing and were lost in their old mushy world...bloody misfits. What surprised me most was that people came with their families. I saw a cute 5 year old girl wearing a Maiden tee in the concert!!! And a certain guy had come with his wife, 2 kids a 6 year old and a 10 year old!!! I just hope those kids don't develop a liking to the sweet smell of marijuana which was omnipresent in the stadium.

Overall it was a mindblowing Maiden concert. Mind the phrase "Maiden concert", the others weren't that great.

Message to Atreyu: Stop that marching thingy on the stage for hell's sake, stop covering Bon Jovi (it's like trying to turn a castrate into a man) and watch concert videos of other bands to learn stage presence (they're available on for free).

Here you can read about 2008 tour: Somewhere Back in Time World Tour, 2008 and the 2007 Bangalore concert here: Iron Maiden in Bangalore.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two More Concerts!!!

Two of my favorite bands are rocking Monterrey again! What more can I ask for?

Scccccccrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmm for me Monnnnnteeeerrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Chiapas - Part I


I'm starting-off with the discourse of my latest and probably the last vacation in Mexico. I'm gonna split the whole word-and-picture-bundle into five parts - Chiapas - Part I dealing with Palenque, Cascadas de Agua Azul, Yaxchilan, Bonampak and Usumacinta river, Chiapas - Part II will be all about San Cristobal de las Casas, Chamula, Zinacantan and Canyon del Sumidero, Guatemala will talk about Flores, Tikal and things about Guatemala, National Anthropology Museum about one of the finest museums I've ever visited in Mexico and finally Distrito Federal is a bit about the capital Mexico city, not necessarily in order.

One last place I ever wanted to see before my stint in Mexico would get over was the mystical state of Chiapas. Supposedly Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico, but historically this was the state of Mayas known for their sublime splendour. Naturally, Chiapas is a very rich state with oil, water and forest resources, just that Chiapanecos are poor. Geographically Chiapas is the southern most state of Mexico bordered by Oaxaca in the west, Veracruz and Tabasco in the north and Guatemala and Belize in the east and south. With Tuxtla Gutiérrez as it's capital, this state boasts innumerable indigenous tribes like Tzotzils, Titzols etc. who are mostly descendants of the great Mayas.

From Mexico city we took bus to Palenque, which is about 13 hours drive (subject to variations based on climatic conditions). We traversed through 5 different states, Mexico-Puebla-Veracruz-Tabasco-Chiapas before reaching our destination, Palenque at about 8 in the morning. Mayabell, our place of stay, was very close to the ruins. A taxi from Palenque busstation to Maybell cost us 50 pesos, with an additional 20 pesos per person to be paid as a maintenance toll to the forest authorities.

Mayabell is an amazing resort catering to both sorts - backpackers and the rest. You can rent out hammocks and swing it in any of the unoccupied palapas (open hut) or spread out your tents anywhere on the lush green lawns or sleep in cozy rooms. There is a nice swimming pool to beat the tropical heat, toilets are without toilet-seats and water is luke-warm...but what more can you expect from a place where you can spend a night for just 40 pesos. We spread our tent, did the morning jobs, had breakfast of huevos rancheros (sunny-side-up eggs) and huevos mexicana (scrambled eggs) and set out to the ruins.

Mayabell is located about a kilometer away from the ruins, they're infact juxtaposed. We started walking towards the ruins and there was collectivo (collective taxi) honking from behind, asking for a ride. To save time, we took that paying 10 pesos per person and alighted at the ticket counter of Palenque. Entrance tickets cost 48 pesos per person without any guide service included. Palenque ruins are located amidst dense tropical selva, with paved path leading to all ruins. The first edifice that one encounters after entering is "Templo de Calavera", the attraction of which is the skull shaped stucco relief. Most ruins in Palenque are high and needs considerable number of stone steps to be climbed. Next to "Templo de Calavera" are some tombs located inside a structure.

The landmark building which is shown in most of search results or posters of Palenque, "Templo de las Inscripciones" is the next imposing edifice. It's the most beautiful structure among the ruins of Palenque. Climbing atop this structure was, unfortunately, prohibited when we went. It bears such a name (Temple of Inscriptions) due to the presence of hieroglyphic inscriptions on it's limestone panels. It also has the sarcophagus of the great Pakal, who ruled Palenque from 615 to 683AD. It's probably the tallest structure in Palenque with steep steps leading to the hall on top and the whole structure has a step-like architecture.

"El Palacio", located right in front of "Templo de las Inscripciones", comprises of complex group of buildings, open spaces, corridors, underground galleries, drainge ducts and most importantly a tower. We saw many princely reliefs on the walls on the outside of the palace and many smudged ones on walls of "Patio de los Jefes Guerreros" (Hall of the Warrior Chiefs). The palace requires considerably longer time to explore every nook and corner of it. The underground passages, led by arches and stairs, are faintly lit and are cold. The tower, probably used as an astronomical observatory, stands tall in the center of the palace.

From palace, we head to "Grupo de las Cruces", the group of the crosses. This was built during Kan B`alam II's (Pakal's son) epoch and it was the religious center consisting of three major temples: Templo del Sol, Templo de la Cruz and Templo de la Cruz Foliada. Templo del Sol has a well preserved roof-comb and inside it has a a panel depicting Kan B'alam II's ascension of the throne in front of his deceased father. Templo de la Cruz, the tallest among the group has steep steps that leads to the temple atop which has a stone tablet showing smoking of tobacco.

We then head to Juego de Pelota (Ball court), which was much smaller than it's counterparts in Oaxaca. The Grupo Norte (North group) had Templo del Conde, which has steep steps that led to hall where Count Waldek stayed during 19th century. We then followed the directions that led to museum through the lower exit. Enroute we happened to see Group B, located between two waterfalls (one of them is called Bano de la Reina, the queen's bath), which were purely residential sites.

The Museo de Sitio (site museum) is just outside the lower exit and costs nothing. It's definitely worth visiting, it has got fabulous finds of Palenque archeological site like censers, bas-reliefs of Pakal, masks and hieroglyphs. The museum remains closed on Monday.

We walked back to Mayabell, took a dip in the pool, hit the shower and got ready for dinner. We killed time on delicious home brewed beer till the live music started at 8:30 and then had some delicious enchiladas and tacos for dinner. The first group of musicians played some eclectic music of guitars and pipes, the second group played flamenco, a really pretty Spanish lady set the stage on fire. The night was chill, a group of stoned hippies at the neighbouring tent kept playing some traditional Veracruz music with Jaranas and guitars which was very welcoming.


Next day, we had an early start to Cascadas de Agua Azul (Blue Waterfalls). A collectivo dropped us in front of Maya Kukulcan, the travel agency that's located just a few steps from ADO bus-station on Av. Juarez. The tour included Cascadas de Agua Azul, Misol Ha and Agua Clara and it cost us 120 pesos per person (extra 35 pesos per person for entry fee). We picked up some rich tourists at posh hotels, before we hit Highway 199. After half hour journey among the lush green selvas, we reached Misol Ha waterfall. It's a tall lean cascade falling from about 35 meters precipice and ending up in a small lake. There are numerous streams flowing out of foliated wet rocks in the background and there is a small cave too. Overall Misol Ha is an OK kind of place, which could safely be ignored.

Another 40 minutes journey, brought us to Cascadas de Agua Azul. This place lived up to it's name to the fullest, the water here is the bluest I've ever seen in my life. It's a huge river with many white water cascades falling into crystal clear deep blue pools, most of which are swimmable. Just remember not to goto this place after rains, for the water becomes muddy and it's no more blue. The area near parking is quite crowded, but you can walk up the pavement along the river to get some amazing views of the river at different vantage points. There are certain places where swimming is barred due to strong currents, but most places are pacific for swimming. There are restaurants along the river and peddlers selling artistic sundries.

The higher you go, the lesser is the crowd. I walked up quite a distance, before I was stopped by a couple of security guards. They told me that it was dangerous to go any further without their escorting, for they said few tourists with cameras like mine had been mugged by forest tribes. I thought it wasn't a good idea to proceed and I turned around 180 degrees and started walking down. At mid point, there were a plank and a rope both for landing yourself into water and I didn't take much time to strip and jump into that fresh, crystal clear, ice cold water. It was one of the cleanest pools I've ever swam in. We just had 3 hours in cascadas, which I felt was very less for place of such picturesque beauty.

We returned to Palenque city and had coffee at Cafe Yara, a decent coffee house which serves delicious local coffee. We loitered around the city center searching for a travel agent to book the tour to Yaxchilan and Bonampak ruins. After inquiring with couple of travel agents, we reached the same travel agency, Maya Kukulkan. After much contemplation and calculations, we agreed for a two days tour, which included not just Yaxchilan and Bonampak, but all the way upto Flores in Guatemala.

This tour was a very reasonable one costing us 1000 pesos per person. It included whole lotta things...pickup from hotel at 6, breakfast en route, entrance tickets and boat to (and from) Yaxchilan ruins from Frontera Corozal, lunch at Frontera Corozal, entrance tickets to Bonampak, dinner and stay at one of the jungle resorts at Lacandona selva, breakfast at resort, boat to Guatemala, transportation to Tikal. If you ever plan to do this on your own, I bet you would have to shell out more money and lot more time.

We had a mouth watering pollo rostizado (Roasted chicken) at Yashalum II restaurant, just a few steps from Maya Kukulkan travel agency. I highly recommend this place for both savour and savings it offers. Post dinner, we retired to Mayabell, showered and slept.


At 6 on the dot, we were waiting outside Mayabell, at 10 minutes past 6 our vehicle arrived. After an hour long journey, at about 7:15 we stopped in a small village for breakfast. Breakfast was a buffet both Mexican and gringo style, served at small yet tidy restaurant. It had huevos a la Mexicana (egg scrambled with onions and tomatoes), huevos con jamon (egg scramble with ham), tortillas, varieties of bread, butter, jam, fruits, coffee, fruit juice and water. We had half hour to hog, before we continued towards Frontera Corozal. It was another two and half hours long journey.

We had to pay a community fee of 15 pesos per person on arrival at Frontera Corozal. The chauffeur handed over a notebook to us mark our lunch preferences, while doing so, he said, "After we see Yaxchilan ruins, we're gonna have lunch. The choices are fresh crocodiles from Usumacinta river, howling monkeys or snakes. And for vegetarians, sandwich of marijuana." Everybody shouted unanimously, "I'm a veggie!!! I'm a veggie!!!". While the choices really contained carne asada (beef bbq), pollo a la mexicana (spicy chicken sautéed with onions and tomatoes), pollo empanizado (deep fried chicken coated with bread crumbles), vegetarian.

Frontera Corozal, is a small town on the banks of Rio Usumacinta which serves as an approach to Yaxchilan ruins. It's got ticket counter for Yaxchilan ruins, an immigration office, an embarkment to board the launches, restaurants and ecotours and Guatemala just across the river. We followed our chauffeur to the embankment, he handed us the entrance tickets, directed us to the launch and told us that we had two hours to explore the ruins.

The boat journey was about 40 minutes on the great Usumacinta river banked on the left bank by Mexico and right by Guatemala. The day was cloudy, all I did in the boat was seeing the landscape and praying for the sun, I was very thrilled by the fact that I was sailing on a river which separates North America from Central America. The river had a dirty-green tint and I was told that it housed crocodiles. On Mexican side, it was only forest while on Guatemalan side there were sparse habitation and agriculture. We also saw few kids and ladies bathing and washing clothes in the river, without the slightest scare of the crocodiles.

We climbed the steep embankment to enter Yaxchilan ruins, whereafter our tickets were checked. We started exploring the ruins starting with Small Acropolis which is a group of 13 buildings, located on the hill top, 166 ft above the Gran Plaza. It requires a panting steep climb, lasting for 5 minutes or less. It has two large patios, each surrounded by many buildings. There are certain lintels with brilliant ceremonial carvings dating back to 8th century AD.

From Small Acropolis, we head to Gran Plaza. Gran Plaza, or the great central plaza forms the architectural core of Yaxchilan ruins. We entered the Gran Plaza through Edificio 19 a.k.a Labyrinth, supposedly the most complicated structure in Yaxchilan. The Gran Plaza has got a ball court, sweat house, temples and stelaes which takes time to explore. Edificio 33 is the most brilliant structure among all, with it's roof comb still very well preserved. To reach this structure, it requires a steep climb of 133 feet from Gran Plaza. Outside Edificio 33, there is a display of some lintels with magnificent bas reliefs that was found in Edificio 33. There is one broken stelae in the corner of Gran Plaza, courtesy smart archaeologists; they broke it in an attempt to move it to a museum in Mexico city. There are some best preserved stelaes in Yaxchilan and few structures have still retained their artistic lintels. It was time for us to hit the boat, we had already spent two hours. We rushed to the boat and drove back to Frontera Corozal.

We saw some howling monkeys on the banks of Usumacinta and heard their loud howls from the Guatemalan side. While we were having lunch (Carne Asada, Pollo a la Mexicana and Quesadillas) at the designated restaurant, the rain Gods made their appearance and poured profusely. We boarded our bus and head straight to the village of San Javier, where we had to change to another bus to reach the ruins of Bonampak. Everybody who wants to reach Bonampak ruins, had to take this bus at San Javier, which is operated by the local community. It's about 10 minutes journey from San Javier to the entrance of Bonampak ruins.

After seeing Yaxchilan, Bonampak seems to be an OK kinda ruins. The gran plaza consists of structures built on an elevated platform which has could be reached by climbing extremely steep steps. The main attraction, however, of Bonampak are the murals. It requires about an hour to explore Bonampak ruins and the murals leisurely. There are three halls which house the murals of the great Mayas. It seems the murals in the first hall depicts the life of Mayans before the battle, the second hall murals depict the battle and the one in third is about celebration of victory. The murals contain deep saturated hues of red, green and it's shades. The colours have faded greatly and it's banned to photograph with flash. I didn't know that we would be seeing the reproduction of the very same murals at National Anthropolgy Museum in Distrito Federal during the same vacation. We came back to San Javier by one of the community run buses and were taken to one of the resorts in Lacanjá Chansayab.

People in Lacanjá Chansayab and surrounding areas, belong tot Chol Maya hey are normally attired in plain white tunics and lead a simple life. They have distinctive facial features and most of them still live in primitive ways in forest. The resort we lived in was very basic but it was maintained neat and tidy. Our idea of bonfire and drinking was rained off, we had dinner and hit the sac early for the next day's journey to Guatemala.

Guatemala be continued...

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Peregrinación de San Juan de Los Lagos

I have seen pretty much all kinda landscapes in Mexico...selvas, deserts, mountains, valleys and done pretty much all kinda adventures...swimming marathons, canyoneering, getting lost in mountains and what not. There was one thing pending that I had to do - Pilgrimage, and am I'm glad that I could do it before my stint in Mexico could get over.

Peregrinación de San Juan de Los Lagos, is the second biggest pilgrimage in Mexico, next only to Peregrinación al Tepeyac. Located in the state of Jalisco, San Juan de Los Lagos is a small town with nearly 40000 habitants. La Catedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos, attracts thousands of pilgrims every year especially during 2nd Feberuary, the festival time of Virgen de San Juan. Pilgrims reach the cathedral in various means and forms - feet, bicycles, private vehicles, public buses or along with an organized pilgrimage group. Abraham and myself did the entire 100kM stretch from Leon city to the cathedral on feet in 29 hours (including rest) and this discourse is all about that.

After delicious breakfast of huevos estrellados and frijoles made by Abraham's mother, we were dropped by his cousin and his father at "i griega" or the Y junction in the outskirts of Leon. It was exactly 11:25AM. That's the place where all pilgrims from cities of Leon and other southern states start their pilgrimage from. The dusty road starts with few banners and some small stalls selling torches, socks, shoe soles and water bottles, immediately after which there is a huge trash disposing place with acres and acres of colourful plastic bottles and other trash and men working among them. We passed through some villages, every now and then we spotted stalls selling the needs of pilgrims. After about 40 minutes of walking, Abraham showed me 'El Cerro de La Mesa' which was supposed to be our first long resting place. It was a squarish mountain which appeared at the horizon obscured greatly by haze and distance.

The walk was almost along dusty roads. We met this pretty lady named Alma, who accompanied us for sometime. At times we saw kids with a bucket of water and cups giving out free water for the pilgrims. We passed a store which was even selling beer along with water and juice! Quite often we were engulfed completely by dense smoke of dust arose by passing vehicles, which was quite annoying. It was around 3PM when we descended to the village of Las Cruces. There were slightly bigger stalls and restaurants at this place, but we decided not to break for lunch. We stopped by for some chocolates, cookies, juice and fruits. Fresh orange juice refreshed us greatly. The main street of the town had a church with blue cupola dome and some residences offering bathroom services with hot water. The road gradually became slightly steep as we passed this town.

Outside the town of Las Cruces, we relaxed for the very first time in one of the stalls that had seating arrangements. The feet were slightly sore, a certain lady from Leon was kind enough to give us some kinda lotion to apply on the feet which relieved us from pain greatly. People were very amiable during the entire pilgrimage. We then continued our walk on rambling dusty path basking more in the dust. It was around 4:30, when we crossed the railway line with a close view of town of Lagos de Moreno. There was a sort of camping area there and lots of peddlers selling hotdogs and hamburgers and fruits and juices. There was one child which grabbed my attention with her innocent smile and she kept smiling as I clicked her from close. We then passed through fields with cows grazing in it, after which we crossed an airstrip and started walking on asphalt.

The road was slightly steep, but it felt much better than walking on the dusty metal roads. It led us to a bridge across a highway, from which El Cerro de La Mesa, looked much bigger and clearer in the evening light. We descended the bridge, the area was smelly and conspicuously dirty. We had another hour or so to reach the village of Mesa. The dusty roads started again, there was a jeep distributing free banana and guavas to pilgrims. As we kept walking, I noticed a pilgrim walking barefoot with a huge statue of Jesus on his back. He allowed me to photograph him without slightest reluctance. We had arrived at the outskirts of Mesa and sun had almost reached his home in the west. Our legs were sore like hell, by this time and all we wanted was a place to rest our bottoms and remove our shoes.

We crossed a bridge across sewerage river and entered the town of Mesa at 6:30 in the evening. We found some place at the entrance of the town and stopped there. Abraham got 2 bottles of alcohol and Vaseline for soothing the feet. It was a great pleasure to pour alcohol on the feet and massage was very refreshing and relieving. We had some muffins and laid down for a while...almost an hour. We then had dinner of delicious caldo de pollo (chicken broth) and continued our pilgrimage. When we reached the other part of the village, we happened to see a very large camping area, crowded and well lit. Some pilgrims were spreading their tents, some sprawled in front of bonfire, some crowded the stalls buying sundries and most others were dancing! The pilgrims had hired a Norteño-Banda-Tejano genre band that played music live and the dance floor was an open area where the couples danced rhythmically. I liked the whole setting greatly and wanted to camp there with other pilgrims, but our plan was different.

We continued our walk in the darkness talking about Mumbai attacks and Madrasahs, lit by the faint light of the torches. Every now and then we saw dimly lit stalls with chairs and bonfire for the pilgrims to relax and beat the cold. It was cold, but our quick pace helped us maintain the warmth. My feet was terribly paining, I was totally dusty and tired and I asked to myself...why am I doing this? I'm not a Catholic, I'm not a worshipper of Virgin, I'm not a believer in God, I don't have any unfulfilled wish. Then I answered myself, that I was doing all this for experiencing a pilgrimage and nothing else. The very thought of the man in bare feet, walking the same dusty road I had walked with my comfortable $100 sneakers encouraged me enough to complete the pilgrimage. The faith of the pilgrims was something similar to what I had seen in my own country. What impressed me most about this pilgrimage is the solidarity, the fraternity among the pilgrims...they don't know who you are, but they buoy you up with cheerful words.

Our destination for that night was La Puerta del Llano, a halting area just next to the highway. At some point while we were walking, the highway became visible and the lights of the vehicles seemed stones throw away but it took us two good hours to reach the highway. The terrain was uneven and stony, which slowed down our pace. When I just had a glimpse of pilgrims behind me I saw a series of torch lights swaying in absolute darkness and advancing slowly. This stretch of the journey, atleast for me, was the most tiring part. We reached La Puerta del Llano when 15 minutes had passed midnight. This place had a big open shed where the pilgrims had slept haphazardly but warmly covered. We repeated the same treatment of alcohol and vaseline for our feet and lied down in the available space. Initially it was fine, but the biting cold started creeping my body slowly and a slight shiver started. I woke up unable to bear the cold and I was delighted to see a thin layer of sheet by my side, abandoned by some pilgrim. We pulled it over us and slept, but still the cold was very severe to catch a decent sleep. Our earlier plan to was to sleep for about 3 hours, but the cold was so severe that we woke up at 7 in the morning.

Morning was cold but full of life. There were many pilgrim groups chanting and cheering and carrying palanquins (litters) with adorned statues of Virgin in it. We had a breakfast of quesadallias (tortillas filled with cheese and Pobalano chilies or potatoes) and started our second day's walk. Luckily the rest of the journey was walking along the highway, definitely desirable than those damned dirt roads. A part of the highway was blocked by the cops for pilgrims. We had another 40 more kilometers to traverse to reach the cathedral. Walking on highway has this weird thing - you happen to see around 7-10km of road ahead which seems as though it's a small stretch, but it would easily take around 2 hours to reach. Pelotons from Mexico city, Michoacan, Puebla and other states kept zooming past on the highway.

At Agua de Obispo we stopped for changing our shoes. It's always advised to take 2 pairs of shoes for such tasks, one normal pair and preferably a looser second pair. After covering such long distance, my feet was slightly swollen and it was a great relief to continue walking with my floaters. We passed the crowded town of Agua de Obispado and from there it was 20 more kilometers. The highway was mountainous having long ups-and-downs. There were people giving out lots of freebies to pilgrims - tortas, sandwiches, lunch plates (containing chicharon, rice and tortillas), juice, fruits, water, painkillers. After a couple of hours, you happen to see two little white triangles at horizon and that's where the tollway to Guadalajara separates out from freeway. We took one last rest lasting for 30 minutes under tree shade, much before the the bridge and then continued without stopping.

We crossed the bridge and that signified we had last 7 km to be covered which would be an hour and half long journey. We had almost entered the town of San Juan de Los Lagos, just that we had to reach the cathedral. The cathedral is located near the center of town of San Juan de Los Lagos and we need to cross few smaller streets to reach the cathedral. Due to it's touristic outlook, the streets are crowded with art and sweet peddlers from Jalisco. San Juan is especially famous for it's caramel and other candies. The ladies of this little village are fairer and prettier, due to prolonged stay of Spaniards there.

It was half past four in the evening when we reached the cathedral. We did a loud high-five for our achievement and entered the courtyard of this impressive colonial cathedral. There were cycles all over in the courtyard and pilgrims from all walks of life had crowded the courtyard. We entered the cathedral and I saw some people moving towards altar on their knees carrying flowers and photographs/statues of the Virgin. We moved along with the group towards altar, where we were sprinkled holy water by the father. In the front there was a statue of the Virgin with ornate floral, gold and Christian artwork. To the left was the statue of Crucified Jesus Christ and to the right was the statue of baby Jesus with his parents holding his hands. Below baby Jesus there were some florally decorated litters of Virgin. We exited out of the small door at the right of altar and relaxed for a while in courtyard.

The market outside the cathedral was bustling with pilgrims shopping sweets and artwork. We purchased caramel and candies and settled down at "Super Tacos" for a supper. Carne asada and Chorizo tacos were highly satiating, after which we took a bus to Central de Autobus. The bus from San Juan de Los Lagos to Leon (costing 65 pesos per person) started at 6:40 and reached Leon at 8PM. Nothing could have been better than a hot shower, home made dinner and a sound sleep after such a tiring feat.

I had never walked 90km in my entire life and I had never spoken Spanish language for 3 continous days. Million thanks to Abraham for inviting me for the wonderful Peregrinación de San Juan de Los Lagos and Abraham's family for being so hospitable.