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In case you haven’t heard…

April 4, 2011

I’m having the THAIme of my life.

The End

March 30, 2011

Well I’ve made it to Bangkok and have half an hour to kill before my hotel room’s ready, at which point I’ll take a MUCH needed shower (23 hours traveling have not been good to me) and probably even nap against all my mother’s best jet-lag counsel since it’s not the nicest of days and I’ve got a few hours before Wayne arrives. So that sixty-word sentence aside, I’m going to do my best to keep this brief.

Our time in Delhi went something like this: The day after Agra we relaxed and did some shopping. It was Laura’s last night in town and I had a contest I was planning on entering that required a travel video, so we decided to document our last meal. You can watch it here:

Something I’d neglected to mention before is that since I was gone for my second Thanksgiving in a row and my parents knew we’d been living a budget lifestyle, they threw some cash our way to go out for a nice Thanksgiving dinner. We did this the night before going to Agra, so pardon the anachronism. Rather than turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes we thought it would be appropriate to indulge in some upscale Indian fare at a place in the ritzy Connaught Place area, as recommended by our hotel staff. We dubbed the occasion “Indianksgiving” because we’re punny like that.

It was sad saying goodbye to Laura, my longtime friend and travel buddy for a whole 15 months! We did a gift exchange to accompany the farewells, and she so kindly lent me her old camera in order to have documentation of the final days of the trip. These days were spent with Kessi, our French friend from the Agra trip; and Justin, an American whose services as cameraman we’d employed for the final shot of the dinner video, and who we then got to know a little better. With Kessi we went to Old Delhi and the Gandhi memorial, and as a foursome we checked out the Lodi gardens.

haha… henna!

old delhi street life

preparing paan

indian school bus haha

favorite. maybe my favorite photo i’ve ever taken, in fact.

once again, have the, “what is this, china?” jokes gotten old yet?

oh yeah, delhi has a red fort too

tree at the ghandi memorial

i was invited to help prepare street food! a crowning achievement in my culinary development.

heading into the lodi gardens on justin’s excellent recommendation

chipmunks!

ceiling detail

bidding adieu to kessi

thought the ubiquitous red-stained teeth on paan-chewing indian men should have been a huge deterrent, we thought we might as well give it a try. i’ll try to get a gif in here of the guy putting together our tobacco-and-flavorings-in-betel-nut-leaf satchels

not loving it

Oh riiiight, and then there was that whole little thing where Wayne and I got to the airport (after getting a flat tire in our cab?) at 7 in the morning for my departure flight via London, only to be informed that the weather conditions were dire there and my flight was canceled! This turned into a hasty goodbye for us as I was shipped off to a hotel in the Gurgaon district to await the 3 am flight I’d been put on instead (that actually became a 6 am flight). After reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga I was under the impression that Gurgaon was one of the nicer districts, but after walking around a bit with Martin, a South Dakotan in similar straits, I found it was decidedly not. Our hotel was great, but the surrounding area was as impoverished, if not more so, than any I’d seen in Delhi.

well the litter problem ain’t gonna take care of itself now is it?

Last but not least, an awesome sign at the check-in gate for British Airways when I was finally on my way out of there. One of these things is not like the others?

In theory I suppose this is where I finish off with some insightful quip to sum up my Long Way Home, but even at the time I was a bit at a loss for words and now, four months later, I kind of feel the same. I feel so lucky to have been able to experience all of these things, and especially to experience them with such amazing people as all my travel companions (some more constant than others) turned out to be. Thanks so much to Laura and Wayne for making this such a special adventure, and also to my parents for helping me out along the way. I learned tons about the world and about myself, and I encourage everyone to find an opportunity to get out there to do the same (say, by making a trip out to Thailand sometime soon ;) )!

Agra

March 29, 2011

Things are really down to the wire here. I’m updating from the free wireless terminal in the Doha, Qatar airport (seriously, American airports really need to get on the ball with free wireless in airports) after an 11-hour flight about which I really can’t complain. Though my eye was caught by films like 127 Hours, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network that I’d been very eager to see, somehow it was The Aristocats that earned the first viewing. And by “somehow,” I mean for obvious reasons:

I did end up watching 127 Hours as well and was very impressed. Guess I’ll have to find time on the upcoming 10-hour flight for the other two.

But I digress. One of our highest (if not only) priorities for things to do in Delhi actually had nothing to do with Delhi. We felt a very warranted need to make a day-trip to Agra to see the marvelous Taj Mahal. It was four hours away and we decided it made the most sense to go with a tour group. Unfortunately this had us standing on the sidewalk for two extra hours waiting for our bus to arrive (flat tire?), but it also meant we had the pleasure of checking out Agra’s Red Fort, something we might not have opted to do on our own. There are pictures but I haven’t come into possession of them and needed to get the ball rolling. So here’s what I do have from the Taj Mahal:

With us in the pictures are Kessi, a French-Mauritian guy in the group who was often mistaken for Indian and two very nice (and seemingly very loaded– they were picking up tour guides’ and horse-drawn-rickshaw-drivers’ tabs left and right) Indian girls whose names I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten. We’d go on to spend some more time with Kessi in Delhi in the following days.

We’d read in a tour book that it was official policy at the Taj Mahal that Indian citizens paid 20 rupee (the equivalent of 50 cents) for entry, while foreigners paid $20 (the equivalent of, well, 20 dollars). I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case. Indian citizens did indeed pay 20 rupee, but foreigners only had to pay 750. You know… just $18.75. This ruffled our feathers a bit, especially since the delay earlier in the day prevented us from actually entering the giant marble mausoleum (though I’ve heard reports to the effect of, “It’s kind of just a big white room…), but I suppose in the end it was worth it.

I’m also missing photos from our later stop (when we were all pretty tired and just eager to get to bed) at some town along the way that is the supposed birth place of one of the most revered Hindi gods, Krishna. I got in a bit of a shameful scuffle with the ladies at security (made me go all the way back to coat check to deposit my dead iPod whose presence in my purse I’d forgotten… the nerve!) and as I said everyone was kind of tired/hungry/cranky, so I can’t name this as the best stop of the trip by any means. But 2 am eventually rolled around and found us back, safe-and-sound in Delhi for the last few days of our trip.

In honor of Laura, who deemed this the soundtrack for the day, Sam Roberts’ “Taj Mahal.”

A Wedding in Jaipur

March 28, 2011

I’m down to the wire here… I fly to Thailand tonight and will have a whole new world of blogging to pursue. So without further ado, here are the finishing touches.

Our tour-guide Ali invited us to the wedding of one of his friends/cousins/brothers on our last night in town. It was an experience we didn’t want to miss. The first part of the evening was spent in the home of the brother (?) of the groom, mostly entertaining and being entertained by a small army of children running amok. Then we were all herded out of the house and into the procession of almost entirely men and children, complete with generator-powered lights and a uniformed band. We were the only foreigners, but had a great time dancing around with everyone. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that the bride wasn’t even present, and I guess it’s not fair to label this event objectively as the wedding. Rather, it was a few hours out of what I’m sure was a week-long affair.

haha, he could be related to them

At around midnight we had Ali drive us to the train station for one last train ride– a short and sweet six-hour one to Delhi. Thanks to Laura MacKinnon for photos and video clips!

Jaipur: Days 2 and 3

March 24, 2011

The title says “Days 2 and 3″ but I really have only one picture/thing to say about Day 2. Golmaal 3.

We finally got our Bollywood movie, and if you didn’t click the IMDb link I provided (as I know you didn’t), here’s the synopsis:

After selling fake examination papers to students, Madhav, Laxman and Lucky re-locate to Goa, and not only get into verbal & physical confrontations with Gopal and Laxman, but also ruin their jet-ski and fire-works businesses. Feeling threatened, they inform their bus-driver father, Pritam, who goes to confront Gopal and Laxman, and finds out that their mother, Geeta P. Chopra, is his long-lost love. Gopal’s girlfriend, Daboo, overhears their conversation, and gets them dramatically married – just in time as Pritam is heavily in debt and is about to be evicted by goons led by Raghav. Chaos and violent confrontations will become the order when he takes his children to live with Geeta, and the newly married couple may conclude that divorce may be the only solution to end their respective children’s disputes.

I’m glad I read that, because I actually had no idea about 90% of those details. One point we were savvy to that that synopsis failed to mention was that the girl’s dog was named Facebook. It was all in Hindi (except for the one character who spoke like a monkey), but still an enjoyable experience. Something to whet your palate:


theatrical trailer– start at 0:30 for the real action


opening sequence, as it really happened in the movie

Other than that Day 2 was a very lazy day without much to write home about.

Day  3, as I can recall found us back in the Pink City for a bit of a walking tour, and then that evening before getting on our final train at Ali’s friend (brother? cousin?)’s wedding. My camera had officially retired by then so I’m waiting on Laura or Wayne to come through with pictures of that.

laura: “ew did you just take a picture of that naked kid?”
me: “oh, he’s naked? i just noticed he was crying.”

cleaning their feet

gathered around for their cups of chai

favorite

then there was this… mind-blowing

naan and curry… mmmm

Jaipur: Day 1– Ali’s Grand Tour

March 23, 2011

I recently met up with a friend who’s going to India soon and was interested in finding out a bit about some of my destinations, including Jaipur. My response was something to the effect that it was cool buuuuuut… It was raining? We found ourselves to be pretty exhausted by that point? We’d made the acquaintance of a rickshaw driver/tour guide whose presence became both a blessing and a curse? Basically that I was glad we went, but at the same time I wasn’t left with the best overall memories.

Editing the photos for this post served to change that a bit. One of the bustling centers of India’s deserty Rajasthan province with the walled “Pink City” (I’m sure Laura remembers better than me the tale of a royal personality with a penchant for gambling who colored it to match a lover’s rosy cheeks), Jaipur provided yet another unique element to our travels. We rode camels (for five minutes down a highway), we went to a guru to have our palms read (though are suspicions were raised when we saw that he worked out of a jewelry store), we finally saw a Bollywood movie, and we even went to a Muslim wedding.

But first we had another long train ride. And of course, it just happened to be one of the biggest festival times in Rajasthan, so the train was a mad house. There weren’t beds for all the people on the train, and particularly in our car, and particularly in our berth. Parents were doubling up with their kids and a blanket was laid on the floor and a small child was laid to rest there (next to Wayne, mind you, who was afraid the whole night that he’d hastily get out of bed and completely squash the girl).

notice the camel! we passed a HUGE gathering of people with camels, presumably to celebrate the festival, but i wasn’t quick enough on the draw

a new breed of bovines

some musical entertainment to pass the time

When we got off the train, we were instantly approached by this man who offered to give us a ride, at what seemed like a reasonable price, to some hotel that also seemed reasonably priced. Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth we accepted, but committed once again the folly of making assumptions in India. This time our assumption was that, after ascertaining the barbaric amounts of luggage we had in tow, no one would dare offer us a ride in anything with fewer than four wheels. Instead we ended up all crammed into one Little-Rickshaw-That-Could.

Our driver introduced himself as Ali and mentioned that he was also a tour guide– if we’d like, he could meet us in the morning and take us around. We could see the Pink City, the Water Palace, camels, whatever we wanted. Seeing as how he’d already been so helpful, we said sure. True to his word he showed up the next morning and we hit the town. First stop was the post office so Laura could ship some stuff home like she’d been talking about for ages, then we went into the Pink City, to this tall minaret in the middle of the city that gave us some good views (further research has reminded me it was the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal, or “Heaven-Piercing Minaret”).

gate to the pink city, that’s actually a little more orange right now

ali and his pride and joy

thar she blows

view of tiger hill from the minaret

ceiling detail

cheesin

next stop: jantar mantar, the old observatory that is now a unesco world heritage site

aries

more street shots

not the palmist we actually went to. ali assured us he had a guru that we should go see if we were interested in that kind of thing. some of his readings seemed to have something to them, but the first thing he said to me was, ‘you will die.’ he also was REALLY pushing us to do mineral therapy to balance our chakras, which seemed convenient considering that he ran a jewelry store.

an old mausoleum, if i remember correctly.

goof

stop… camel time.

critters on the highway. water palace in the background

painted up for the festival

the car in the back is thinking, ‘ugh i should have known if i left at that time i’d end up behind the elephant and the fruit vendor!’

sad sack!

hahahahaha… how uncomfortable does laura look?!

the baaaaby

haha… my face.

back on solid ground

randomly overexposed shot that came out pretty cool

walked by our rickshaw

Ali then took us to a fair trade textile factory. I know this doesn’t sound astoundingly interesting, but it was actually kind of cool. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the labor system in India has some sketchy aspects. Historically women aren’t encouraged to work, and people of the lowest caste aren’t allowed to, at least not alongside people of higher castes. According to Ali, a while back there was a good mayor of Jaipur that started an initiative where single women who are trying to support families and Untouchables in the same situation can work and make a fair wage. The factory we went to operated on these terms. The picture above is of wooden stamps used to make designs on saris, one of which I had the pleasure of trying on. Though the items were a little pricier than what we could have found in a market, we thought it was for a good cause and bought a few scarves.

lots of gold dust in the air


getting wrapped in six feet of fabric

ta da!

went to one last temple

anyone else singing ‘baaaand on the run!’ in their head? it was wedding season so we saw these guys all over the place. not generally stuffed into the back of a rickshaw, but, you know…

We were very happy with our excursion around the town and happy with Ali as a tour guide, but he was beginning to wear out his welcome a bit (and trying to get maybe a little too close to Laura…). We asked for a recommendation for a dinner location, and he took it as an invitation. Finally we had to tell him that the next day we’d prefer to just entertain ourselves, but not before he invited us to his friend’s wedding our last night in town. We thought that was a great reason to hang out with ol’ Ali just once more, and said we’d be happy to join. But more on that later.

Mumbai (the Unbelievable Five-Photo Post)

March 17, 2011

Any of you who are aware of my track-record with technology shouldn’t be at all surprised by the fact that my year-old camera started going on the fritz towards the end of our trip. There were no cups of beer, holes in pockets, or toilets involved in this misadventure; I think it had simply been subjected to some extreme conditions. Anyway, it decided to go more-or-less off duty in Mumbai, so here are all five of the pictures I was able to get away with:

european style architecture in the churchgate district

same same

cricket tourney in churchgate (thankfully we had wayne in tow to explain all the intricacies!)

the gateway of india on day two

taj mahal hotel in the colaba district

If I haven’t completely lost track of the India schedule, I believe we arrived in Mumbai early on a Saturday and left late on Sunday for Jaipur. Our first impressions weren’t great. Definitely passed through some smelly, slummy areas on our way in. After being dropped off got into a taxi asking 500 rupee for a ride to the Bandra district, whence we would depart for Jaipur and therefore where we wished to stay.  An older Indian woman appeared out of nowhere and started berating our driver; she informed us in perfect English that on the meter it wouldn’t cost more than 100 rupee to get to Bandra, and that he was trying to rip us off. We weren’t surprised, but greatly appreciated her intervention– except we had to drive around to about six different hotels before finding a suitable one, and by that time the meter had reached 600 rupee. And we weren’t at all happy about spending another 1200 on the hotel room the three of us shared. Looking back it’s a bit laughable that we’d gotten so bent out of shape about a grand total of $45 (split three ways!), but I think that just speaks for the scale on which we’d gotten used to operating.

One of the best Indian meals we were to ever enjoy raised our spirits at lunch. As did this little episode: our waiter was having a hard time understanding what we said to him. A kind man at the table next to ours leaned over and said, “Let me help. What did you want to know?” “Oh thanks! How many blah blah blah are in the blah blah blah?” Kind-man-at-neighboring-table turned to the waiter and said, “How many blah blah blah are in the blah blah blah?” In English! I guess it was just our crazy American/Canadian/South African accents that threw him off.

The same man recommended Churchgate as a nice place to spend our afternoon. We took the train (with its separate “Ladies Only” car, which I believe Laura ended up checking out because the rest was so crowded) and indeed it was nice. Definitely a different side of India than we’d seen before, which seemed to be the name of the game we were playing at each successive stop. Checked out the architecture, watched some cricket, got some ice cream, and headed home.

Our goals for Mumbai were to catch one of the famed Bollywood productions (our fingers were actually crossed that we’d be invited to participate in the filming of a movie as extras, as allegedly happens to foreigners fairly frequently… no dice!) and drink some Bombay Sapphire (despite an acute distaste on my part for gin), and we thought our one night in town would be the perfect time to do both. Instead we did neither. Bombay Sapphire was nowhere to be found, and the theater the hotel employees sent us to was not playing Bollywood. Alas!

The next day was dedicated to meandering and shopping in Colaba, an affluent, tourist-friendly district in the south of Mumbai where the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel are located. First we had to drop off our luggage in the storage room (read: “parcel office,” since there was no storage room, though we’d been told on multiple occasions that EVERY train station in India has a storage/cloak room) at the West Bandra train station, which left us in a considerably less affluent area (video courtesy of Laura MacKinnon):

We enjoyed the day and the sunshine before making ourselves comfy on a nearly 24-hour train-ride to Jaipur– the penultimate stop of the journey.

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