World Trek 2004/2005
Amanda and Josh travel the world in 2004 & 2005!
* Delhi Belly, Peekin' at Bikaner, Agra-vated
* Tai-wan, Tai-pei, and Thai-Lads (I Think)
* Fine China
* Its Chinese to Me!!
* Up the Coast in Vietnam
* Phnom Pehn to Ho Chi Minh
* Angkor Wat? Angkor Whoa!!
* Wowed in Laos
* Know UNESCO?
* Slow Boat on the Mighty Mekong
* Chiang Mai Pad Thai
* Jungle Juice
* Banged Up in Bangkok
* Tied up in Thailand
* To Tha Highlands Laddies!!
* Malaysian Sensation
* Singapore - NOT a bore!
* Bye Bye Bali!
* To the Gilis!!!
* North, East, South - We circle East Bali!
February 02, 2005
Delhi Belly, Peekin' at Bikaner, Agra-vated
(Again I apologize for taking so long to post a new blog! Finding a computer with all the things I needed in Europe was surprisingly difficult. Plus, my iPod charger got burned up in India and I couldn't access mt pics!! I'll try to post the last few entries over the next two or three weeks. Anyways, read on!!)
Ahhhh! How could I have forgotten the black bone chicken?!! Heather was right. I must make a slight addition to the last entry. In my hurry to post a scandalous picture of me and the lady-boy I forgot to mention an amazing meal we had in Hualien. After we spent a day or two playing at the Wenshan Hot Springs and cruising Taroko Gorge we drove into Hualien for another meal with Steven Wu, our Taiwanese guide and new found friend. Mom had briefly mentioned her training as an acupunturist and curiosity about how Traditional Chinese Medicine often uses healing foods instead of just teas or herbs. She kept talking about black bone chicken does this, black bone chicken does that. It turns out that Steve found a place that serves up this famous concoction! Finally, we got a chance to slightly repay some of his kindness with a unique Chinese-Taiwanese meal. We hadn't really eaten well up in Taroko Gorge and we left our table manners at the door. Sorry Steve!
Now, on to India. [Deep, deep breath] What can I say about this place? I've heard all kinds of attempted descriptions of India: "Yeah, it's dirty but it's soooo magical" or "I found myself in India". Well, I don't know about all that. All I know is that even after a few months of travel in some of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia we were still culture shocked once we stepped off the plane. I thought places like Saigon were crowded. Delhi is in a class of its own. We arrived at night and ended up in the local crack house for the night - well, it would have certainly been a crack house in Atlanta. In Delhi it was considered "decent". It was 5 times as expensive as any room we had in Asia and 10 times more disgusting. I could go on but that could apply to most of our India trip. We got up early and headed out to catch a visiting lecture by Roy Davis from CSA before heading off to see the sights. You may happen to remember me mentioning something about black boogers in Bangkok. I take that back. Those were nothing. The smog in Delhi is atrocious. Black boogers might have been nice. The things we pulled out of our clogged noses after a day in Dehli could be authentically certified toxic waste. Thousands of auto-rickshaws speed around the city spitting out dark clouds of slow-to-dissipate fumes. We rode from Roy's lecture out to the main mosque of Delhi with red bandanas tight across out faces. Jama Masjid was built in 1656 and is still the largest mosque in India. Its huge courtyard was mainly full of pidgeons when we visited but holds up to 25,000 people on major religious Muslim holidays. It was an elegant Mughal building compared to its dilapidated, human clogged surroundings. Just getting up the stairs from the street was a terrifying exercise in claustrophobia. The view was worth it though. Until then we had no clue as to just how crowded and crumbling the neighborhood! From Jama Masjid we stupidly decided to walk the kilometer or so down the street to the famous Red Fort, braving thousands more auto-rickshaws, old Ambassador taxis, and fume pumping buses to show up ever so slightly frazzled at the gate. This mammoth fort was built in 1638 under the sword point - uh, ah direction of our love bird Moghul ruler, Shah Jehan. (Recognize the name? More on that later.) In India, we discovered that foreigners get to pay 2 to 300 times the entrance fee as locals. We can pay more I agree. 300 times the amount is rediculous. So, we fought off the wannabe tour guides and went inside to the warm welcome of the Indian Army. These guys were really nice. I didn't even mind the 50 or so pictures they wanted to take with us! At first chance we slipped into a corridor and found ourselves in a royal courtyard surrounded by the rooms of the royal harem. Man oh man, those were the days! Some 60 odd women at your beck and call. I wonder if I was a Moghul ruler in a previous life. I certainly can't rule any women this lifetime. I can barely get Amanda to carry half the crap she buys in all these places! Our jet lag and all the noxious fumes had taken its toll for the day. Another few minutes walking around and then we left, arriving safely back at our hotel a half hour later. The car, bus, rickshaw and person our driver hit on the way back may not have been so lucky! No joke.
When Amanda was home she discovered that her best friend's parents were also going to be in India at the same time. Leela and VD Sharma invited us to spend a few days travelling with them to visit relatives and friends. We jumped on the opportunity. We met them at their hotel in South Delhi and they let us know we'd been "kidnapped". We all piled into a taxi and were off to see more Delhi sites. This time it was off to Qutab Minar, another Indo-Islamic architectural wonder of the early 1300's. This thing was impressive. Standing at over 200 feet tall its a wonder how hey even built the thing. The tower seems to have worn well though and the Islamic inscriptions on its exterior are still quite clear. We played around with the Sharmas and headed off to the world famous B'Hai Lotus Temple. If I ever end up preachin' somewhere (other than to Amanda) I want a church like this one. The inside of this flower building has the most excellent acoustics and natural lighting I've ever seen. It is an inspiration to come pray in itself. Back in the taxi we were off again for a quick stop at a colection of religious complexes that included what looked to be a replica of an Angkorian Temple and of all things, a giant, red Hanuman statue in the distance. That probably wouldn't be found at Angkor Wat.
The next day we were off to Bikaner, the hometown of the illustrious VD Sharma. After the first of many an overnight train we showed up to meet the Indoor family and their beautiful children. We had our first Indian breakfast and were off to see some ofthe local sights. It turns out that one of VD's other relatives used to be a superior at the local Mughal Fort, Juganarh. After passing through some of the elephant proof spiked doors we got a royal tour of the compound including a few rooms that are normally off limits to tourists! That was a treat! We toured the harem courtyard and the royal armoury. This was followed up by a fantastic donkey cart ride! Our time in Bikaner flew by in a blur of home cooked meals and visits to the local markets with Amanda, Leela, and Nehru. Amanda started her collection of heavy gifts I was blessed to carry. Good thing we were so well fed. All that amazing Indian food made me less cranky as the kilos started piling into my bag.
From Delhi we were off to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Our 2 hour train ride was rather uneventful except for our introduction to Indian curiosity. At the time we weren't sure if we were getting unfriendly stares because of where we were or if it was just the Indian way. We have since learned that travelling in India is probably similar to being caged in a zoo. Everybody stares at foreigners. And they will stare for hours at a time not caring if you stare directly back. Those 2 hours were a bit unnerving. (They were nothing compared to the 24 hours of stares on the ride to Mumbai!) We left the station, found a decent, less crack-house-like tourist hostel and then discovered to our dismay that the Taj is closed on Friday for religious reasons. All that after paying for a ride across town and getting hassled by souvenir touts the whole way. This includes an offer by a local resident to let us stand on his roof for a good view of the Taj at only $20 dollars - EACH! Yeah, no thanks buddy. Little did we know this was just the beginning. There is no respite in India from the hassle. If you are a foreigner you will be taken advantage of at every opportunity. The next day this was proved by yet more outrageous entry fees to the Taj. Locals pay 20 Rs. (50 cents). Foreigners pay 750 Rs. ($20). But it was worth it!! We showed up for sunrise and a bit of Taj semi-privacy before people started pouring in. We caught a glimpse of this illustrious tomb through the gate. Then suddenly, there it was in all its glory at the end of a long reflection pool, the the Taj Mahal! I've heard all that jazz about the Taj being a tribute to love secured on the dying breath of Empress Mumtaz but never gave it much weight. When I saw it in person I had no doubt that this story was probably true. Shah Jehan, yep, the same guy who built the Red Fort in Delhi, had the Taj built to be "a beautiful mausoleum the like of which the world has never seen". He started in 1631 and finished 22 years later only to begin work on his own mausoleum across the Yamuna River. His plan to build an identical all black Taj was interrupted when his son Aurangzeb took power and imprisoned dear old Dad. Talk about issues! It might have been amazing to look at a twin Taj across the river but this one will do just fine. Besides, 2 Tajs means twice the number of hawkers!
Posted by Josh on February 2, 2005 09:14 AM
Category: Where are we?
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