Leaving India: We left Darjeeling, taking a jeep down off the hill, a day long train ride to Kolkata, and then an early morning flight to Singapore. We left Darjeeling a late and were a little afraid we wouldn’t be off the mountain by nightfall. We took a different route down, and the road was incredibly bad – full of ruts and washouts. It was a long, bouncy ride. Because of the late hour, the driver was fast, but careful on the mountain road. However, when going through the town at night after the mountain, almost hit a bicyclist, rickshaw, and cow. We arose at 5 the next morning to catch our train to Kolkata. This train station was easy to navigate and we had no trouble finding our train and car and seats. It was a 12 hour train ride and went smoothly. Everyone just read and slept. The other men in our train car were incredibly loud (now the kids know why I (Tim) talk so loud – you have to, I grew up in Pakistan/India). Josh is very greatful for ipods. I think he may have “tuned” out India. Every picture you see of him, he seems to be wearing his Skull Candy headphones.
Arriving in Kolkata train stations is such a zoo. There are incredible numbers of people taking the trains and taxis at 10:00pm at night. Where are they all going? We tried to take pictures and movie clips, but it just does not do justice to the action and activity that you notice and experience. For those of you that have done this, you know what I mean. The pictures of the station, people, and car traffic just can’t do it justice. Finally after a hot, humid, loud, chaotic taxi drive, we finally got to some “dive” hotel near the airport, only to sleep 4 hours and get up to catch our early morning flight to Singapore.
Everything was going smoothly the morning of leaving despite only getting 4 hours of sleep and waking up at 4:00am. There was hardly anyone at the airport. We were told we had time to go ahead and get some breakfast and come back. We did that, but then we started to worry about our flight time when we got into the Customs line; a long line, only three custom officials taking forever to look at your passport, stamp it etc. Others on our flight were getting antsy. I followed someone else to the front of the line whose flght was also leaving soon. We then found out that there was more paperwork to be filled out, that no one had given us. Soon, everyone in the line was starting to grumble and yell at the customs officials. One custom official even did a “sit down” protest – “if you are going to yell at me then I won’t help you” – reminded me of my kids at age 3. Usually, you file through customs one at a time. Well, my turn came up, and when in Rome do as the Romans; I grabbed the whole family and went to a customs official. There was no way we were doing this individually and lose someone in the last minutes of India. When he came to my passport, all of a sudden he put my passport to the side, picked up his cell phone and made a call. Oh great! What does this mean? Finally, he issued our passports and we high tailed it out of there. We were close to the last ones on the flight. So much for planning and getting there two hours early, only to be given the wrong information and sweating it out at the end. When we sat down on the plane, you could feel the sense of relief from the family. Our last look out the window at India.
Arriving in Singapore: Kolkata (15 million people in one city) to Singapore Airport. Talk about a state of opposites: black to white, night to day, chaos to peace, pandemonium to serenity, unstructured to structured, dirty to pristine cleanliness. We did India. We made it. We survived it. Nobody got sick. No items were stolen. We remember it for its good and bad.
The kids have asked the question, why India? Well, it’s because I (Tim) grew up in Pakistan and wanted to have them see the Indian subcontinent and get a taste of what I felt, saw, heard, and experienced growing up. I knew they may not like it, but maybe, years down the road as they get older, something “good” would be remembered or experienced. They also would see a different culture, religion, people group, life style, and travel as compared to the other Asian countries we had been to. We were not able to go to Pakistan due to the terrorism/Taliban/safety issues. India, rather than Pakistan is also a lot easier (at least for women) due to it being primarily Hindu and not Muslim.
The kids were asked to write a paragraph on different aspects of India. Natalie and I both knew India would be the hardest part of the trip, but the heat in April, I think, made it worse for the kids; Nov-Feb is the best time to travel India. Anyways, you can see the categories they were to write on. By their responses you can see it was not the best experience. Maybe one day they may appreciate the experience more. Here it is “untouched” (well maybe a little) by parental hand.
(1) First Impressions:
a. Josh: My first impression was its not “that” hot here. Well, that was a load of crap. India is hotter than any other place we’ve been (April not a good time for India). Within the first day I saw hell, heard bad music, and felt hot. Yet, I still thought, I’ll give India one more chance. I would not say that now of course.
b. Natasha : The first day in India was not very fun. When we arrived I didn’t think it was much. The airport was basically empty. Then we got into a taxi and drove to a hotel. While in the taxi all I heard was honking! The hotel was much quieter. We had to find an ATM machine and that was when everything went wrong. We walked out to the street (which was crowded) and went to a place called New Market. I felt like I was about to cry. It was noisy, crowded, hot, and dirty. Bottom line; first day horrible.
c. Annika – I saw tons of cars, people, sewers, tuk tuks, smoke and other things. What I felt was people pinching my cheek, hear honking of cars, and other things.
a. Josh: Whether it was a taxi, a train, or a tuk tuk it was one hell (excuse the language) of a …….. emphasis on hell. Well, maybe not so bad, but not comfortable at all. The trains were deary, the taxi’s were hot, and riding a tuk tuk was like riding a roller coaster with dust constantly flying in your face. Don’t let me forget the jeep rides in Darjeeling – man, talk about bumpy. As dad says, it was like “off-roading” but still on a black top road.
b. Natasha: Traveling was okay. The trains were really smooth but it was open cars (unlike Vietnam where you had your own “compartment”) so you heard everyone else too (Indian people are very LOUD). The taxi’s were really hot because they were old and did not have AC (unlike Thailand)so we didn’t even want to touch each other in the crammed car. The roads were not very good either. I didn’t like traveling too much.
c. Annika: Traveling by trains, the stations we went to made me want to scream, but it got much better when we finally got on the train. The taxi’s were not very good because they were old and did not have AC and it was very HOT. Tuk Tuk’s were small but at least you got wind because there were no doors or windows.
a. Josh: Of course we “had” to go sightseeing and usually what we saw was really boring. The forts are always different, some or should I say one, was interesting and the others were boring. Tombs – what’s fun about looking at a dead man’s grave? The Ganges River is nasty, not just because I think it is, but because it’s so dirty; nothing lives in it (except bacteria and nasty critters). Ahhh! The Himalayas. Finally a place that is cool (temperature and other) and I am actually wearing a sweat shirt and there is a lot of tourists. PS: I like tourists ……. In Asia. Darjeeling still smelled and was dirty, but it wasn’t hot so I felt better. But the part I liked the most was the trek….or maybe the people there……and the beer (some kind of Himalayan wheat beer that was good (yes, dad here, I did let him have a sip). The people were just the other tourists who spoke fluent English and the food, once again the breakfast, was really good. Our tour guide was a DJ.
b. Natasha: The Taj Mahal was really big and amazing. It was cool inside because the marble held it in. I didn’t like the forts as much but one fort (Jaipur) was cool. It was cool because you could go almost in every hole and door. I didn’t like the tombs very much either. But they were amazingly carved. The Ganges River was amazing also, because it was so dirty but people still washed and got cremated by it. I really like the Himalayas because they were so cool and big. The really stood out against the green hills.
c. Annika: The Taj Mahal was beautiful and big. The forts I liked and the Himalayas were totally awesome.
a. Josh: The food was not bad, not bad at all. In fact, I think the best breakfast I had was in India. If there is one western thing India can do, it is making an omelette, or killer scrambled eggs. But real Indian food is alright too (naan, roti, chai, curries, fruit lassie, chicken tikka) and not annoying, but I don’t want to eat any more …… or noodles, or satay, or rice, but I would like some lemongrass chicken with a little chili on top.
b. Natasha: The food was good but sometimes a bit spicy. Some of the Indian food I didn’t like but most of it was good (Chai, roti, naan, curries). I am kind of sick of curries now though. When we ate at our driver’s house, we had the best rice ever. My favorite was chicken tikka.
c. Annika: The food was very spicy and I hate spicy. Although I did like the butter roti/naan and chai (milk-sugar tea). The western food was okay.
(5) Last Thoughts:
a. Josh: My “final thoughts” of traveling through in India for three weeks are short, simple, and to the point. India: the air was hot, dusty, and (crappy)tasting/ feeling, smells like (urine), looks like trash, however, the I liked the food and the mountains of the Himalayas.
b. Natasha: There were some things I liked about India, but there were some things I hated. Most of the sights were cool. But traveling and trying to get around was hard.
c. Annika: It was very hot and crowded making me want to scream and punch someone. I hated it, but I liked the Himalayas.
Next stop – the final piece of the saga – Here we come, Bali. A great way to end the trip.