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Indian Adventures Continue

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Hi all. Writing about India is proving difficult for me. Each day is so full that reliving it on the computer is frankly, pretty exhausting. But, Toni is off getting henna done so I have a little time to fill you in. Here’s a brief rundown of what we’ve been up to: After Delhi, we boarded a night train – very comfy in 3rd-class AC – for Varanasi. Not cheap though. Which leads me to dispel a common myth about India: It’s not cheap, people. Sure, it’s cheap if you want to go “chair” class on the train, which means there will be 50 Indian men in your non-AC church-pew seat, if you want to sleep in bug-infested motels, and if you only eat street food. But generally, it compares to Thailand, which isn’t the cheapest country in Southeast Asia. Never mind though, as everyone has told me, “It’s still cheap for you, Becky.” Too true.

So, we hung in Varanasi for a few days, one of the most holy places in Hinduism and the most auspicious place to die, as your body is cremated along the Ganges and your ashes are sprinkled in it. There are two “burning ghats” where they do this – the others are used for bathing, washing clothes, and apparently for depositing rubbish. Unfortunately for Varanasi, there are 30 open sewage drains emptying directly into the river here. The water doesn’t have any more oxygen in it; it’s just H2, not H2O. On our second night there, we watched an elaborate “puja,” meaning ‘prayer’ or ‘offering’, ceremony, and then were invited to be blessed by a Brahman priest and set some little flowers with candles afloat in the river. It was mom’s birthday, so I had him bless the whole family, for which he wanted 500 rupees, about $12, (I gave him 100 rupees). So, we set these flowers afloat, and these kids that were hanging out with us were like, “push the flowers away,” so we actually had to stick our hands in the water. Then they splashed us, for “good luck.” I was afraid my skin would burn off where the water hit me, but so far, I’m okay.

Let’s see, after Varanasi and a side trip to a town called Sarnath, where Budda preached his first sermon (very cool!), we were off on another night train to Satna, near Khajuraho, to see some stone temples that I studied in an Indian art history class a few years ago. I actually wrote my final paper for the class on the temples, so it was cool to see them in person. They’re famous for erotic carvings, a few in particular, and one involving an elephant. Interested parties can look at my pictures when I get home. Picked up an Israeli girl traveling on her own, and the three of us took the bus ride from hell to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Our new friend had some magical Israeli sleeping pills though, which all three of us took when we got on the bus. I’m telling you, it was like I was tripping or something. I’d lift my arm and think “Did I just lift my arm?” Whoa. So the first half of the 10 hours passed pretty smoothly, I must say.

Got to Agra late on a Thursday to find out that: the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays! OMG. And we went up to the roof of our hotel to see it at night and guess what? It’s not lit at all. Total blackness. One of the most recognizable icons in the world and there are no lights on it at night? That’s like turning off the Eiffel Tower. Oh well. I’ve learned not to ask questions here, just accept. So the next day, we toured the fort in Agra and went to a local market, which was tons of fun cause we didn’t get hassled to buy things at all. We were more of an oddity than anything. It was also the last day of Ramadan, and we were touring around near the mosque in Agra, so we saw hundreds and hundreds of men walking to pray and heard the ceremony over the loudspeaker – very cool. Ate a yummy masala dosa, which is kind of like a savory potato-filled crepe. The food, my God, the food. Took a sunset walk around the back side of the Taj Mahal and got some fantastic pictures of both the building and the garbage-choked river flowing right behind it. That’s India, I guess – beauty and ugliness side by side. Had a nice dinner overlooking the Taj. More on the glorious, delicious, carb-o-riffic Indian food later. Suffice it to say: yum.

Awoke the next morning for a sunrise trip to the Taj Mahal, and I have to say that seeing it in person was worth the cost of my plane ticket alone. It was truly spectacular, one of the few things in life that lives up to its reputation and your expectations. It is more beautiful than you even think it could possibly be. As the sun came up, the entire building glowed pink. Without exaggerating, I can say it’s the most beautiful, awe-inspiring building I’ve ever seen. You should all see it, and I mean it. Spent the morning there watching the sun come up, and then went to: a shopping mall. We had asked the front-desk guy at our hotel about a good place to do some shopping, where “Indian people go,” for Indian clothes and that sort of thing, and he directed us to a place called “Big Bazaar.” Cool, we thought, a big bazaar! The big bazaar is a shopping mall, complete with KFC and McDonalds. Oh well, it was air-conditioned! That night we took an overnight bus ride to Udaipur. The bus was so rattle-y that the window would shake open every 5 minutes, so Toni and I took turns closing it all night long. Hilarious! Once again, thank God for the Israeli magical sleeping pills. Arrived in Udaipur 15 – yes, 15 – hours after we started, and found: my most favoritest city yet. Okay, all, that’s where I’m going to leave it. Toni has been gone for a long, long time now. I’m hoping she isn’t being force-hennaed. I’ll update if I can. If you don’t hear anything for a while, google “Goa,” cause that’s where I’m going. xxx

Holy Culture Shock

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Hi all. Taking a little time today to fill you in on what Toni and I have been up to. The days are so full that it’s hard to remember all the details. I’ll do my best for you though, readers. I’ll cast my mind back now to two weeks ago, when I was an India virgin. Arrived in Delhi at around 5am and got a “pre-paid” taxi from the airport to the hotel, because if you take a regular one they try to rip you off. Remember that theme, people, because it’s constant. Got to the hotel around 6am and woke up Toni, had a little catch-up, went back to sleepie.

Day 1: We emerged from the hotel, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and faced: utter pandemonium. “Traffic” doesn’t even begin to cover it. A small sample of what you may find on a Delhi street: cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, oxen – your basic barnyard family, plus monkeys – pedestrians, beggars, touts, dogs, street vendors, cars, bicycles, motorbikes, bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, rubbish, waste from all the previously mentioned animals and people, etc. etc. etc. We wanted to find some place for breakie, but instead found a very helpful auto rickshaw driver who took us to a restaurant for the low, low fare of 5 rupees. Now, not having a guidebook yet, we had no idea that the ride should have cost around 30 rupees. Our driver waited for us during breakie and then, so kindly, took us to the “official” tourism office. Here began attempted scam #1, where we were subjected to a hard-sell, and told that every single train leaving Delhi to the places we wanted to go was full for the next two weeks, but they could book us a mini-bus tour for the low, low price of 275 pounds. Right. When we balked, the price suddenly dropped, but when we said, well, we think we’d like to GO to the train station ourselves, the man got pretty belligerent, “Oh, you think I’m lying??” No dude, we KNOW you’re lying.

We escaped and asked our faithful rickshaw driver, who was working on commission for that travel agency of course, to take us to the train station. We soon realized that we had been subjected to one of the classic India scams. Determined to find our own way, it still took us most of the rest of the day to even find the correct office to purchase our train tickets, as our disgruntled driver had purposely taken us to the wrong train station. Upon entering the wrong station, we were given directions to the wrong tourist office, but at least the dude in there was honest enough to tell us we were in the wrong place – we were so grateful we booked a day tour for the next day. Finally around 3pm, we found the correct office, which is located in the main Delhi train station. Even in the courtyard of the station though, we literally had to fend off guys telling us the office was “closed, moved, renovated, burned down, etc.” and trying to redirect us to the “real” office. Another almost-confrontation ensued when I questioned the truthfulness of one of these helpful men. “Excuse me, ma’am, do you think I’m lying?” That’s balls, man, lying to someone, and then getting upset with them for noticing. Anyway, we found the office and booked ourselves on the night train to Varanasi, the spiritual heart of Hinduism, where many people go to die and be cremated along the Ganges. More on Varanasi later. Day one came to a close with a much-needed beer at a rooftop hotel on the Main Bazaar street, and a rickshaw ride home which should have cost 15 rupees but for which we were charged 40. Wise to the scam by now, we paid him 20 and high-tailed it into the hotel. That, dear readers, was Day One. Okay, off to check out the fort here in Jodpur. Will blog more when I’m alone and Toni isn’t sitting here waiting for me to get done. Love youse!

Same Same But Different

Thursday, October 4th, 2007
Hi all! Killing a few hours before the shuttle comes to take me to the airport in Bangkok, where I'll have a further few hours before my 2:30am flight to Delhi. Wowee gee, I can't believe time has flown by ... [Continue reading this entry]