Guitars, Cows, and Pollution OH MY! (Live From India)


The big and really, only, update regarding India. 1,830 words, 4 videos and some pictures. :)

I was going to stay in India until late April. But … well … it’s just not “me.”

So I’m leaving to go to Thailand on 31 March. I’ll stay in Bangkok for about a week then head up to Chiang Mai for ~30 days before coming back to Bangkok to fly to Poland.

08-09 May looks like this:

– Train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on 08 May
– FinnAir ($1800 Business Class ticket for $200 in taxes + 70,000 frequent flier miles!) leaves Bangkok at 12:15am on 09 May and heads to Helsinki (10 hour flight)
– Helsinki to Warszawa (FinnAir, same ticket), arriving at 10:25am (just a 1 hour flight!)
– Train from Warszawa to my hometown of Wroclaw that afternoon (6 hour train ride)

The at-the-border Thai visa is supposed to be only 30 days, but I couldn’t book any award travel until 09 May so hopefully they give me an extension without any hassle.

More on that another day…

Here’s some fun stuff from India!

1) The Guitar

I’ve had a lot of e-mails asking about the guitar.

Check out the video I made below. Don’t mind the silly editing in the beginning. I was trying to build suspense. (Did I miss my calling? Hollywood? I can be reached at 352 577-0173.)


Check out a bunch more photos on my Flickr account here.

2) Cow Drinks Piss

While driving around on my scooter I ran into a heard of cows. This is a regular occurrence. For whatever reason (oh right, this shit doesn’t get old for me, I love cows!) I stopped and began videotaping. A funny thing happened …

3) Some Kind of Procession

Again, while driving around on my scooter, this happened …

Other points of interest

No Traveler’s Tummy

I eat from dirty street stands (hell, dirty restaurants in general) every day and have not had “Traveler’s Diarrhea” at all like what supposedly happens to “everybody” who comes here. I attribute this to my strengthened vegan immune system. When I used to eat meat I would get sick if somebody sneezed 10,000 miles away from me.

It’s Dirty

It really is as dirty as everybody says it is.

Let’s break it down …

a) The air is polluted as all get out. When I first got to Mumbai I went to play basketball with my CouchSurfing host and I might as well have been playing in a smoky indoor bar. My lungs were not happy. Funny thing is, the Indian kids who we played with ALL smoked during breaks. I don’t know how they do it.

This One's Called The Smog
Aguada Bay, Goa, India

b) Trash burning is a regular occurrence. All day. Every day. Couple that with almost 100 degree heat and you have the recipe for pleasant odors.

Cow in Garbage Smoke
Cow Hanging Out In Garbage Smoke

c) There are signs everywhere stating “Don’t spit, it spreads TB.” Almost everybody spits. Gross.

d) The land is your toilet. If you need to use the toilet (yes, #1 or #2) anywhere you like is fair game.

Goan Hospitality

The Goan phrases for “hello” are …

If you’re a taxi/rickshaw driver: “TAXI?! YES?! TAXI?!”

The taxi/rickshaw drivers here would rather stand around yelling TAXI! than drive anybody. They don’t use meters and will not drive you anywhere (even just down the road) for less than 50 Rupees, but more likely no less than 100. In comparison, in Mumbai I took a 1 hour taxi ride (~15km) for about 200 Rupees. When I was doing the guitar workshop I walked everywhere, but after that I rented a scooter for 150 Rupees/day.

To be clear: You could be 30 feet from a taxi driver and he will yell across the street for you until you acknowledge his poor salesmanship. “TAXI!? HELLO? FRIEND? TAXI? HELLO?! HELLO?!” All day long, no stopping. Every single taxi driver.

Eventually I stopped caring, because I understand they’re just trying to make a buck. (And getting the scooter meant I wasn’t affected by it anymore.) But if one smart taxi driver broke the “rules” and used his meter he’d be driving/making money all day instead of standing around wasting his voice.

Autorickshaw driver doing what he does best: nothing.

If you’re a shopkeeper: “Hey! Look at my store! Just look!”

I’m a nice guy. So when a shopkeeper would extend a hand and say hello I would shake their hand and say hello. I learned to stop doing that quickly because once they have your hand you literally have to pry it away. Not a good way to make a sale.

I made friends with an Indian-American here and I asked him if this stuff happens to him with the taxi drivers and shopkeepers. He didn’t know what I was talking about. So we went walking down the road and every single person we passed wanted our wallets. He got annoyed real quick. :)


I heard there would be a lot of problems with beggars but they have all been very kind. I’m not a fan of giving cash, but whenever I have food I offer that. They sometimes ask for money beyond the food, but that’s OK. Gotta hustle to live.

Interesting story: one day while walking from the market to my scooter (not a long walk) I ended up giving away all of my apples. So I went back to buy more. On the way back to my scooter this time nobody asked for my apples. Sign of respect? I don’t know, but it was nice.

The Cow Is Not Sacred?

Yay cows! On the beach! Baga Beach, Goa, India

I was talking to a woman who has been in India for decades and I mentioned that I was quite surprised when I saw a guy elbow drop a cow and other people treat them like garbage. I thought the cow was sacred in India. Her response: “What you hear in the news and from outside the country is not how it truly is.”

Essentially, I’m told from various people, cows are pests. It’s true they are everywhere, and they play in traffic, and they leave cowpies where you’d rather them not leave cowpies. But if they’re sacred they’re sacred. You treat them like gods, not like dirt. So, while most people here do not eat cows, they don’t seem to be well respected animals.

I understand Goa is different (maybe due to the large (30%) Christian population?) and I also understand my definition of “sacred” means more than just “don’t eat cows.” So my final observation on this situation is: I’m still not sure what to think.

I’m also told in rural areas it’s different and cows are, indeed, treated with the utmost respect. And that makes a little more sense. I’m an ignorant American making the only observation I can with what I was presented. Take it as you will.

Wow, that was negative, so what was good?

I love Indian food. For less than 200 Rupees I could almost eat enough to make me puke. For illustration, here is part of a reference one of my CouchSurfing hosts left me: “We had a good time with Karol…[EDIT]…seeing him put away copious amounts of food (in a good way).”

I always laugh when people say I eat a lot because usually it comes from somebody who says they eat a lot and are astounded by my stomach capacity. I’m 6′ 5″ and I have a metabolism, much like the rest of my body, from the future. That explains that.

Massive 50 Rupee Paper Dosa
Massive 50 Rupee Paper Dosa (also pictured: a fresh squeezed pineapple juice)

20 Rupee coconuts! OK, maybe this falls into food, but it needs a separate mention. I’d never had fresh coconut before coming to India. I love coconut water and coconut meat! It’s full of fat, but that’s where my futuristic body comes into play.

Celebrity treatment. This annoys a lot of people. I loved it, if only for the sheer wackiness of the situation. If I spent every day on the beach I’m sure it would get annoying, but I’m not a huge fan of beaches. Anyway … every time I’d go to the beach or other touristy areas I’d get swarmed by Indian men (~20-35 in age) taking pictures of and with me. They’d put their arms around me like we were best friends and give me high fives and whatnot. It always tripped me out, but it was awesome. But again, if it happened every day I can see how it could get annoying. It’s fun to be “famous” every once in a while. :)

Nice people. In that same regard, everybody I met who wasn’t a taxi driver or shopkeeper or trying to make money from me some other way was very nice. I would go exploring on my scooter pretty much every day and in the little villages/neighborhoods around Goa lots of people would wave, kids would run out and talk to me, and people were just cool. They’d usually think I was lost, but you can’t be lost if you don’t know where you’re going. I mean that literally and philosophically. ;)

It’s cheap. Although Goa is more expensive than most areas of India, it’s still cheap. For example, most nice (i.e. not the cheapest, not the most expensive) guest houses cost 500-800 Rupees (less than $20) for a room with attached bathroom.

I rented a nice apartment in Calangute for 18,000 Rupees/month (~$400). A year ago the cost would’ve been about 20% less. Inflation is nuts here. But again, still cheap. And that price included a living room, bedroom with queen bed, cable TV (haha, pretty useless for me, but it was there), a nice outside porch, and every other day house cleaning (including new sheets/towels).

And if I was the old me I estimate I could get completely shit-faced for about $10/day. Speaking of alcohol, there’s a local Goan alcohol called Fenny (~$1 for 60mL) made from cashews (Goa is known for its cashews, mmmmm) that I wanted to try. So I did. Not drinking for 4 months was easy. And I haven’t drank for a month or so since I tried the Fenny.


Even though India is not “me” doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good time. It’s just not “me” that’s all. It’s kind of the whole Right People thing.

Check out more photos from India on my Flickr account here.

For more reading: check out what Chris at has to say about Goa here. I agree with most of it.


Unrelated, but Kirsty over at just released an awesome eBook called The Underground Guide To International Volunteering. I named it. ;) And yes, I bought a copy as well ($14). If you’re interested in International volunteering this has a lot of great info from someone who’s been doing it for years: (not an affiliate link) – $7 from every sale goes to Hands On Disaster Response. Kirsty is currently in Haiti volunteering with HODR, helping clean up after the massive earthquakes.

Also, I’m going to interview Kirsty about how she makes money passively, which allows her to travel the world perpetually, for Version 1.0 of How To Live Anywhere. :)


  1. Hello Karol,

    I have heard Goa is beautiful and so is Delhi (Kutub Minar), Agra ( Taj Mahal). You can try and go to metro and visit some beautiful places. You can also go to Jammu and Kashmir.

    India is full of tradition and bright colors. My friend had been there and she has some beautiful pictures.

    Bye for now,

    • Hi Cheryl,

      Yes, parts are beautiful. I’m not sure what you mean by metro. If you mean public transportation, it’s much different than what you’re probably used to.

      I did take the bus once. 45 minute bus ride in a bus meant for maybe 30 people with 50 people inside. I could barely breathe as it was almost 100 degrees outside, and probably 120 inside the bus. :)


  2. How come you speak English so well if you’re from Poland? What’s your secret?

    Guitar … Metallica, mmm, yeah. Good guitar tunes they have produced.

    Re:traveler’s tummy, you think you may not get as sick because you do not eat meat at all, plus of course, you having the super-vegan immune system.

    Seems like I won’t be visiting India in a awhile. To be honest, it looks horrible, and I really don’t enjoy people yelling TAXI?! at me.

    Thailand was almost the same, but people weren’t yelling TAXI?!

    Indian food is what I live for. Haven’t eaten it in a while, but oh man…

    • Henri, you’re the first person who has watched that video to mention Metallica! :) I had to slip Fade To Black into there. (To everybody else, it’s the slow fingerstyle part in the middle of the video.)

      I speak English well because my family arrived in the US when I was 1 year old. Which means I don’t speak Polish too well. Well enough to get around and communicate with anybody, but one of the reasons I’m going there is so I can re-learn it.

      I wouldn’t call India horrible. And again, my experience is strictly Goa (and 5 days in Mumbai).


  3. Ah, so much to ask but sooo little time.
    For now I will say, that you and that guitar sound schweet! What is the action like in comparison to a factory guitar? What weight of strings are you using? Is there a break-in period?
    Grrr…. late 4 work again….

    • Thanks Glenn!

      The break-in period was a few days. The action can be whatever you want so there is no comparison. That said, I have a slightly higher than normal action because I like to play tuned down a full step. Lower action would mean lots of buzzzzzzz. :)

      I’m using light gauge…12s.

  4. Wow, that paper dosa looks really good! I looked up a recipe online to try and make my own… However, I’m going to make it one of my goals to head over to India someday and try an authentic one.

    Sounds like you had quite an adventure! Thanks for sharing the journey with us!

    • Truthfully, I’ve had Indian food in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and I don’t feel that it is not authentic. Especially if the restaurant is run by an Indian family. It tastes the same, just cheaper here. :) Also, everywhere else in the world seems to mostly have Punjabi food whereas here you can get more variety.

  5. Hi Karol,

    It’s funny to me that so many people want to visit India, esp. from here. People in India and Pakistan want to visit the US or UK ;)

    The air is dirty, traffic is obnoxious, people can be in each other’s business.. glad you liked it ;)

  6. Hey Karol, great write up about my old home Goa :D Don’t write off India yet though; Goa (and even to a certain extent, Mumbai) is not a good representation at all of the country. I plan to go back and explore some more another time.

    I also never got sick thanks to being a veggie. On top of this, I imagine being a vegan is so much less complicated in India!! From what I gather, most illnesses are caused by either poorly cooked meat, or from drinking unfiltered water. I had always confirmed ice etc. had been filtered before leaving.

    Sadly I was about to leave with a perfect streak of a clean bill of health, when I got cocky and drank sugar cane juice from a street stall just before leaving and regretted it for days after… (I drank it from street vendors in Brazil all the time!!) It doesn’t have so much to do with your own strong immune system as your immune system’s lack of familiarity with the local bacteria. Anyone avoiding the usual causes of illness will be fine in India, but lots of people get sloppy.

    BTW Mumbai is like a pristine forest compared to the pollution of Bangkok!!! I don’t even remember Mumbai as being *too* bad (I live in cities all the time), but I was shocked by Bangkok. Watch out! Luckily Chiang Mai is a huge improvement, and has great university buzz about it.

    Did you make it down to Palolem for the headphone party? Or the secluded Cola beach? Calangute itself didn’t tickle my fancy at all; you get hassled less and it’s more chilled out with a younger cooler crowd in the south ;)

    • Hey Benny! Yeah, I read a study about air quality in Mumbai and it’s supposedly equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes/day. :) According to Bangkok has one of the best air qualities for major cities in Asia. That said, I know it’s polluted as well. (When you’re comparing exactly how badly polluted something is it can’t really be a good comparison! hehe)

      I didn’t make it down to Palolem. I did keep an eye out in the Goa Couchsurfing group, but one of the Palolem CSers said the headphone parties are dead nowadays.

      As far as not getting sick: yeah, I’ll bet the meat is a big problem. And I didn’t drink any water except from a bottle. The funny thing is, all our dishes, glasses, and veggies are washed in the tap water, right? So you’d think we’d get sick anyway. Or maybe it’s because of quantity of bacteria.

      • Bangkok has one of the best major city air qualities in Asia?? Holy shit! I’m scared to extend my travels further afield in Asia now :P I literally stopped my consistent morning jog routine in Bangkok and hid indoors for most of my stay because I could feel the pollution every time I stepped outside of the air conditioning…
        I’d imagine in March the headphone parties aren’t so good, but I found them enjoyable in February last year.
        Everything is washed in tap water, but they are left in the open to dry, or they are subsequently cooked so the amount of bacteria would be vastly reduced. A few droplets left on something is nothing compared to ingesting several hundred millilitres of unfiltered tap water… Outside of touristy areas I always refused ice in my drinks, even in 40ºC temperature, for this reason.
        Thanks for this post, I enjoyed the videos!!

        • I always get ice in my juices and never ask if it’s filtered. (Although I do always ask for no sugar. What is it with putting sugar in juice? It’s already sweet!) Then again, in Goa it’s pretty much all touristy.

          As far as Bangkok air being good, that’s not what the study says…it’s still horrible. Just that it’s supposedly better than Mumbai. In any case, I’m looking forward to checking it out! ;)

          Also, I will only be like a 4 hour train ride from Berlin when I’m in Poland. Maybe we’ll be able to meet up. :)

  7. Great post Karol, thanks!
    Love the guitar.

    My travel gear includes earplugs (noise), sunglasses (no eye contact – often important), and my relaxed smile (puts people at ease.) They work for me.

    You might consider wearing inexpensive local clothes to blend in. It can be fun and when you leave you can give them away or mail them home. Most locals won’t know what to make of you financially (or mentally), see if you get tourist-hassled less.

    Can’t say what to do about the air :)

    Best to you!

    • Thanks Sheryl!

      The local Indian men my age all wear Western style clothing. And buying more clothes would go against my minimalist tendencies. ;)

  8. Enjoyed the trip report and pictures. Due to disabilities I am an armchair traveler. I prefer to travel via people who and see more than the tourist stuff. Thanks for the visit.

  9. Nice report. It brought me back to the time I was in Bangalore for 3 weeks. It’s not my favorite place either. But the people are great.

  10. Great write up of India! I love hearing the little details, ways and customs about certain places that you never read in the guide books. The guitar sounds sweet also, how long have you been playing?

    • You’re welcome John! :) The workshop is really cool. I’m going to see if I can get an interview with Chris, who runs it. But I haven’t been over there in a month and I don’t know if he’s still around.

  11. Awesome review Karol! Although my trip to India was only limited to Delhi, but I did explore a little. On a busy day in Delhi it was hard walking down the side pavements without bumping into someone. One thing I did love besides the cheap living was also cheap shopping. What I meant by that is most of the stuffs we would pay an average price here in the USA was considerably less there with good enough quality. I do not know about Goa but traffic in Delhi sometimes got stuck for hours.
    Bangkok trip for me was awesome! There is a lot to see and enjoy but I only stayed for 5 days. Hope to get back again soon one day.
    Hope you have a good trip way back n enjoy!

    • Thanks Faisal. I haven’t done any shopping as I hate shopping, but I can imagine everything being a lot cheaper. Except electronics. My USB Modem was $100. The traffic in Goa is not as bad because it’s a smaller, less populated, place. Mumbai was pretty intense though.

  12. Very interesting to read. I’m going to India this summer, partly with my uni (I’m willing to do some research if they pay my trip ;)) and partly holiday.
    Also quite love you’re guitar play!

  13. Karol- You certainly know how to inspire people!
    Thank you for the postcard of the cows lounging on the beach. Best surprise I’ve had in a very long time. I’m going to keep it on my desk so it can continue to inspire me on my own Ridiculously Extraordinary path.

  14. For someone who realized that India is not exactly ‘you’, there is plenty of excitement running through this post! I suspect that once you reach the relatively calmer, cleaner, more peaceful Thailand, you’ll find that you actually miss much of what may seem like a nuisance right now.

    Few other places in the world offer such a never-ending stream of shocking assaults on all the senses and I know when I’m away from India, I miss those constant challenges more than anything…

    • Thanks Earl. Yeah, I guess I’ll find out how much I miss India over the next few months/years. :)

      Like I said, I’ve enjoyed myself, but it’s time to move on.

  15. Ah India… I will make it there some day! It sounds sufficiently chaotic for me. Thanks for the info! Thanks even more for the plug for my ebook and an extra special super thanks for naming the thing. I look forward to getting your interview questions.

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