Monday, August 31, 2009

indian travels

Because I was finally able to log into my old livejournal account for the first time in months...crap, I've been blogging longer than I remembered... and I don't want to forget these memories live from India:

2/22/07 09:12 am - Homeward bound

So after many adventures, I bid adieu to India tonight. I just returned to Delhi and am exhausted. The past few days have been a whirlwind of adventures.

I'm actually really sad to be leaving. To be honest, I feel like I was just starting to get to know India and now I'm leaving.

While in Udaipur, the guy that gave me the ride to the Ranakpur temple introduced me to his friends, and I spent the past 2 days hanging out with a random collection of his friends, all male, but super friendly and lovely. Went on a series of wild motorbike ride adventures, and trust me, when I mean adventures, I mean, 3 people on one bike, in traffic! And Indian traffic is NOTHING like Canadian traffic!!! Picnics in the country, parties in a restaurant. It was great fun. But it was great, even though I was oddly surrounded by about 15 men, I had a blast. And I got to see sides of India that I was able to see just as a tourist. So it was great. Yesterday I went to a picnic in the country, and when I had to leave to catch my train I was told that it sucks that I'm leaving so soon.

After Agra I was really looking forward to coming home, and I still am, but less than I was before. Don't want the adventures to end, or to have to return to reality again. And I definitely want to return to see the rest of Rajasthan and southern India.

Current Location: New Delhi

2/20/07 11:37 am - Udaipur

In Udaipur, having a good time. Relaxing. Thought that I'd go for a massage, but it looks like not. Went to Ranakpur yesterday, which was 2 hour drive through the country. It was beautiful. In Ranakpur there is an old Jain temple, which was nice, but the country drive was by far the best part of the trip. I love how even the poorest of women wear the brightest most beautiful sarees. It's something to behold, the desert landscape and women carrying baskets on their heads with bright blue, pink, green, orange and yellow dresses. I wish that I could have taken a picture, but alas, no such luck.

Actually I did something that was a bit crazy yesterday. I met this guy who after chatting for an hour, offered to drive me out to Ranakpur if I paid the gas. Now, of course my main thought was, ok, that's not really a good idea. But I took a chance and took him up on his offer. I know, I'd never have done that at home, and I could have gotten hurt... etc, etc... but here I am, safe and sound, and I had a lovely ride through the country for it. Actually I kept thinking of that line "I've always relied on the kindness of strangers..." from the movie " A streetcar named desire." I feel like that that line has been a theme for my adventures in India. In almost every city I've been in, there has been one person that has offered to take me somewhere, be it a tourist site that I can't go to alone as a woman, or a silk factory, or a private tour through the largest Sikh temple in Delhi... Each time that I've ventured out of the prescribed behaviour and decided to trust someone that I hardly know, I've been pleasantly surprised by the new side of India that I've discovered. In fact, more so than anything else, it's been these "risky" adventures that have made my trip. Crazy. The scams and touts, and attention I get here can be very tiring, but as I've said before, I think that travelling alone has also created opportunities that otherwise wouldn't have existed. All in all, I find the people here incredibly friendly and welcoming. Even if I am somewhat of a curiousity!

It's funny, I keep asking these people that go out of their way for me, why they're doing this, and the answer is always the same: Money isn't everything. You have to take time to live life and experience new things. Us talking and hanging out means practicing English, showing you things that you haven't seen so that you see the real India, and gives me the opportunity to meet a new friend. That has been the same answer I've been given by 5 different people. It's very intriguing. All I can say back is that in Canada it would be very unlikely that anyone would be so friendly and accomodating. Which is not to say that people are rude in Canada, but I don't know, it's just not anywhere near the same. Now of course, I'm not stupid, I also am aware that it is almost always men that offer these invitations, and that there is a veiled romantic interest behind some of these gestures. But with my trusty husband lurking in the background, most of that attention is neutralized and overt displays of intention are always avoided.

I was originally going to take a tour bus to Ranakpur, but when I got to the tourist bureau I was actually told that it's currently the off season. Yeah, I'm a bit surprised, but apparently the prime season is from Oct to Jan. If I just missed the rush, I can't even imagine what the peak season must be like!

Off to finish my souvenir shopping today. Where I'm going to put these souvenir, damn if I know! But somehow I'll find a way. I think I might be leaving some old things behind! Didn't really need that towel, or that grey t-shirt!

Udaipur is very quiet in comparison to everywhere else I've been, but it's relaxing. I'm enjoying the down time. Anyways... a shopping I will go!

Current Location: Udaipur

2/18/07 12:06 pm - Elephants, camels, and monkeys

Wow, I have to say that there are more of you out there reading this than I expected. Thanks for the feedback.

Latest photos.... (omitted... see original blog:

Elephants at Amber Palace in Jaipur.

Snake charmers:

Random woman in Amber, Jaipur. I just thought it looked pretty!

You might not get the effect, but this room is covered in mirrors, it was really beautiful actually. Also in Amber, Jaipur. Apparently it's even better in candlelight.

Moving on to camels:

I actually saw a camel with patterns similar to the flowers on the elephant trunk above shaved into the camel's behind... All I could think was: "Alice the camel has a shaved butt..." Didn't get a picture unfortunately as we were driving by it. It just seemed random to shave a pattern in the camel's backside when it's pulling stuff...

Next up, monkeys!

I went to a Monkey Temple in Jaipur, but it was full of people for some festival, so I didn't get to spend any quality time with the monkeys. In fact, I sort of ended up feeling like a circus monkey myself with all the hellos, hi, namaste, namaskar, and random handshaking going on. It was funny because one woman reached out to shake my hand, which was surprising because it was the first time that an adult female shook my hand, and she started giggling after she did it. Something tells me that it was her first handshake with a white woman. What do you think?

So all these people were there doing puja in these baths, men in one, women in another. Here's one:

Next I went to this fort called Jaigarh, it was pretty spectacular actually. It was in the middle of this barren landscape, totally remote. It felt like I was all alone in silence, and then there was this amazing garden with the following view:

The picture doesn't do it justice. It was probably the most beautiful place I've been to in India. I can't even begin to describe how fantastic it was. You needed to experience the solitude in order to feel how this garden was this oasis in the midst of nowhere.

Final visit was Nahargarh fort. The fort wasn't as thrilling to me as Jaigarh was, but the painting done throughout the building was intriguing.

So that was it. I decided to head to Udaipur after all. Shopping be dammed, I don't have any room left in my bag anyways. Think that I'm going to have to buy a 2nd bag. That or get rid of some stuff, or mail things home. Not sure which choice I'll take. In Udaipur now, and am glad that I made the decision to come, it's very beautiful here and I'm just going to take the time to relax. Read, medidate, try some yoga and a massage.

Current Location: Udaipur

2/15/07 10:44 pm - New photos

Ok, 5 pictures for your viewing pleasure!

Varanasi, take 1:

Varanasi, 2:

The Taj Mahal, Agra (partial view)

Marya, at the Baby Taj, Agra (detail carvings... might be sideways due to technical difficulties?)

Hawamahal, Jaipur (visited today, Feb 15th)

Current Location: Jaipur

2/15/07 05:15 pm - Rajasthan

Ok, I think it's official. Jaipur is my favourite city to date! I love it so much I might just stay here for the rest of my trip. Rajasthan (an Indian state) is beautiful and clean (almost on par with Montreal) and my hotel is amazing. The owner came and picked me up personally, is super nice and his hotel is beautiful. I'll take pictures and try to post them later. My room is super cheap so not much to write about, but the restaurant and hotel in general are lavish and exotic. Might try to splurge and upgrade. If I went to Udaipur I'd be paying double what I pay right now, so I figure if I go up 1/4, I'm still paying less. Then I'd have a room to write about.

And the shopping... let's just say that I'm going to need a bigger box! (or suitcase for those who don't get that!)

The surrounding landscape is fantastic, the people are fine, not as bad as Agra and Delhi, but more children begging. But did I mention the shopping? I'm drooling. I mean, do I want 1 pair of sandals or 10? Ok, ok, 5...

And I finally found an appropriate gift for the boy to say thanks for taking care of the kitty. Thank god, it was starting to stress me. Somehow I didn't think silk would be his thing, you know?

Went wandering today, checked out the big central sites. Very lovely. And there's so much more that I want to see, around Jaipur, in Jaipur, etc. I should have just come to Rajasthan I think. Like it so much more than anything else I've seen so far. It feels like what I expected India to be. Anyways, tonight I'm headed to see a Bollywood flick, all in Hindi, so I'll have NO CLUE what's being said. 3 hours of not knowing... We'll see if I make it that long.

Apologies for my last Agra post, I really didn't like Agra, wanted to leave sooner and should have. One day was more than enough. Suffice to say that I'm feeling much more positive and really enjoying myself here. Body weary again from walking, but in a good way.

Met this guy from Slovackia (sp?) who is going to see some tigers... thought I might join him, but I might have missed my ride while wandering the city. Alas, what can you do? That's fine, tigers weren't really big on my list of things to do anyways. It would have been nice to have some company and have seen more of the countryside, but I think that given all the things that I want to see in this region, I should be able to check scenic country views off the list! Tomorrow I'm going to try to head to a Monkey temple and see a puppet show at night. Should be interesting. And I have to find out if my hotel can actually accommodate me for another few nights. We'll see.

So my ATM card doesn't work in India and most places don't take credit cards, or if they do, you have to be careful! Go figure. So I had to withdraw cash from my credit card today from Thomas Cook travel. Thankfully they do so, otherwise I'm on my last few dollars from the travellers cheques. Maybe that was part of the reason that I hated Agra so much, money stress. It was really complicated to get travellers cheques cashed there and when you found a place they charged way too much. I literally cashed enough to get out of town!

Trying to think what else to share. The train was late again, by 5 hours. Seems to be the norm. Though listening to the loudspeakers, I have to say that I've heard 6-8 hours being listed as delays. How a train gets delayed that much puzzles me, but who am I to question Indian trains!

With that, I'll sign off. I have nothing that exciting to report, except for that things are going better and that if you had to stay somewhere in Jaipur I'd recommend where I'm staying hands down. It's pretty sweet, even by Canadian standards!

Current Location: Jaipur

2/13/07 04:47 pm

So I think that the norm for my India travels is a combination of loving and loathing each destination in question.

The Taj Mahal was anti-climatic and cost me 20$ to see... soooo not worth it, especially considering that it started pouring while I was there. Given all the monuments I've now seen, it was really just a bigger version of things I'd seen before, for much less! So it really felt like a rip off actually. But whatever, I've seen it.

The rickshaw drivers in Agra are really something else. They just don't take no as an answer. I've ended up yelling at them to leave me alone. That's how bad some of them are. It's really frustrating. All in all, Agra is not my favourite place.

However, that said, the Red Fort here is lovely, I had a really funny rickshaw driver yesterday, and my hotel is the best I've stayed at so far. So there are positives. The really hot shower, the first I've had since arriving in India, I think takes the prize! I feel clean for once in my life... Using a squat toilet for.... is the true low point!

I leave first thing tomorrow morning and I'm happy to go.

I think that all of the hassling: buy a postcard, a snowglobe, a richshaw ride, an auto-rickshaw ride, have a cup of chai with me, see lovely jewelry, marble... etc, etc... Chocolate, rupee, money, food, please, 1 rupee... it's just starting to wear me down. I feel like my whiteness marks me as a target. Or just my foreign status... I feel like I'm being expected to be this rich donator, or person to scam because there is this perception that I have money... and I don't, not really. I feel like on some level I'm being held to this standard of accountability, or this idea of wealth that doesn't really exist for me. Now granted by comparison, I am wealthy, but I hate saying it but I feel like as a foreigner I'm expected to pay, I'm expected to remedy the situation for the people approaching me. And as awful as it sounds it's starting to anger me because I look at the way that these people that expect this of me are treating each other and at times I'm horrified.

Maybe it's just Agra. But I saw a kid left to wander the streets full of traffic be hit by an auto-rickshaw driver, when the kid wasn't paying attention and walked into the rickshaw, and then have the family freak out on the driver for being a bad driver... never mind being a bad parent! I've seen dogs with legs broken in the middle of the road with people walking by it while it howls, and they're completely indifferent. Did you know that cows will eat garbage? Or that a sadhu, this holy wandering hermit of sorts, will yell a dog and her puppies, spit on them and throw rocks, and then ask for money from me. Parents that wack their children, hard, in public, shit in the street, piss, spit. Traffic so backed up and crazy that it's frightening! I would NEVER drive here! But I don't know, it's not just Agra, but I think that Agra has become the point where my tolerance has been pushed to its limits. You know?

Don't get me wrong, there are things that I'm loving. How friendly people can be, how helpfully (when wary of the scam), how interesting the culture is, the architecture, the way of life. I could never live in a city here, it's pure madness. But on the other hand, the beauty of the landscape is fantastic, and the places where you find tranquility, precious and magnificent. Maybe it's the contrast, maybe it's just the location itself. I don't know, but they can really be something else.

People say you either love or hate India. I can't say it's one or the other. I think my experience would have been very different had I come with another woman, or more so if I'd come with a man. Being alone has at times afforded me the opportunity to sit down with a local over a chai and get to know more about the culture or city. Overall, what strikes me the most is really the gap between rich and poor, and the indifference to it that is exemplified at all levels. It's really something else! I suppose it's understandable, I'm working on the premise of being indifferent in order to get by.

If I ever came back again, I think that I'd go south, or north to the mountains, and stay in villages. Indian city life is a bit too intense for me. People say that it's real, or raw, and I guess that I agree. But in a way that's not so positive as they tend to spin it. I feel like the rawness is there, but only because there are so many people and an inability to support it within the infrastructure. I guess that despite it all, as much as I have loved parts of my trip, India really makes me feel like I'm part of the problem. What we have is not the norm and our glass palace will have to shatter sooner or later, because places like India are bursting at the seams. I'll end my diatribe before launching into a full out rant.

Anyways... don't know if this sounds too negative, but really it's what I've been pondering while here.

Current Location: Agra

2/10/07 12:40 am - last day in Varanasi

It's pouring! Torrential downpours pouring! And I went on a rip roaring motorcycle ride in the rain to visit a silk factory. I saw silk being made by machines, and by hand, and bought some pretty things! It was fun. I'm drenched and will be leaving the city in a few hours, but it's definitely ending on a good note, even despite the rain!

Yesterday I went to Sarnath, saw where Buddha gave his very first sermon... It was a bit underwhelming actually. But I had a bicycle rickshaw ride, which was nice. Very cool as I could see everyone and everything. Had conversations with people on other rickshaws, waved at kids, felt very much like a memsahib! Which was somewhat disturbing. Not sure that I like feeling like the rich lady with the servant... will probably stick to auto-rickshaws from here on in. But I did it once and it was an experience.

That's it for now. Going to have a cup of chai.

Current Location: Varanasi

2/7/07 10:05 am - Live from Varanasi (aka: Benares)

Arrived in Varanasi today. Survived a very long train trip and learned that Indian trains don't identify the station. The only reason that I was sure that I was at my stop was because the people sitting with me were also getting off at Varanasi. Hopefully I will be so lucky in future rail experiences!

I don't even know where to begin since my last post. I've been so busy that I literally crawl into bed each night physically exhausted. Which despite how it sounds, is a good thing!

My last days in Delhi were full, saw pretty much everything that I wanted to see and then some. Hung out with this guy that offered to be my tour guide, free of charge... I bought him dinner as payment. Which meant that I was able to experience some local culture and go places that a girl alone can't go (namely to the top of this tower that gives a great view of the city). The next day I started off alone, and ended up with a driver that drove me all over and then gave me a personal tour of the famous Sikh temple. While also taking me to a bunch of shops. The drivers all get a pay-off if they bring in tourists, even if they don't buy. So I went to 3 and he earned 300 rupees. The same happened the next day, but I managed to get a free ride for agreeing to go to various shops for him. Hell, they make more money off of that than the actual fare. And all I have to do is say no, just looking. Well actually it's a bit more complicated than that, they are very good at what they do, the salespeople here. It's hard to say no, and put up an argument that they don't try to undo... but I stood strong!

Varanasi is proving to be an interesting city. It's a dirty maze. Literally covered in cow shit! Oh yes, I'm serious. And it's super easy to get lost because it's a crazy web of side alleys in the Old city. Crazy. But the people are surprisingly nice, and I don't feel as harrassed by them in terms of the sales, or sexual innuendo. In fact, for the most part the people here have been lovely and helpful. Now if only I could say the same about the Ganges and the burning ghats (where they cremate their dead). It doesn't smell as bad as I thought it would, there is that! I really thought that human flesh would be an awful smell... but it's on par with bbq... with more smoke? Ok, maybe not bbq (no smell of sauce and I don't want to eat!)

Oddly enough the drug scene here is pretty pronounced. I've been offered hash at least 3 times. Totally taken aback by that, but whatever. No way in hell am I repeating Amsterdam!

There's some sadhu festival going on right now, so there's a random collection of gurus, men covered in ashes, naked, etc walking around the place or hanging out in make-shift tents. It's interesting.

Going to explore the city tomorrow, try to see some temples, then take a ride on the river. I actually think that I might have over-estimated the amount of time I need here in Varanasi, but my train ticket out is booked, so I'll just take it easy for a couple of days. Go on a sweets tour, watch them make fabric and carpets, and try to go to Sarnath, which is where the Buddha went after attaining enlightenment. It's only 8km away, so totally do-able!

All this to say that despite the ups and downs, I'm enjoying my stay immensely. The poverty is very pronounced, but oddly enough, not as bad as I thought it would be. I think it's because it's sometimes hard to distinguish between abject poverty, poverty and existing here. The line doesn't seem to be clear. Moreover, for some reason, even though it's in your face all of the time, it's easy to ignore. Maybe because it's just everywhere that you become desensitized? The standard of living is so different. I'm staying in hotels that I would considered dumps back home and wouldn't dare spend the night in, but am quickly coming to see that by the majority of Indian standards, they are perfectly decent accomodations. Crazy!

Anyways, going to sign off, have a cup of chai, relax and read a book. Woo hoo!

Current Location: Varanasi

2/6/07 10:05 pm - Pictures from my first day in Delhi

Don't worry, it's just a selection!

First stop: Qutb Minar

The colours aren't great, because ironically, it was too bright!

More of the Qutb

Inside the ruins:

Next: Lodi Gardens (also known as lover's lane... ok, not really but it might as well be.

More photos to follow later. It takes a long time to upload them, so when I'm less tired!

Current Location: Delhi

2/4/07 06:10 pm - What to say about my first day in India?


Got in last night, took 2 hours to get out of the airport. My ride was still there, thankfully. Trip into town was fine until we hit the Paharganj distinct. I honestly felt like I was being driven into a slum. I had a moment of panic that I was about to be scammed, or worse, left at the mercy of my cab driver! But we arrived, and it was fine. Saw a dog and a cow eating trash in the middle of the road, lanes are completely optional here, shanty shacks on the main drag, a woman walking in the middle of the street talking to herself (not that different than Mtl!), and my cab driver harrassed me into giving him a larger tip. And my hotel room is dirty. The real highlight of my evening was experiencing my first "Eve teasing." This guy in the car next to me was staring at me so intensely that it was not only unsettling in its letcherousness, but also in the idea of road safety. I felt like he was going to drive into my taxi and run me off the road. But on the positive side, no cochroaches or bed bugs (yet!) Whatever, as long as I don't know about them, I'm prepared to co-habitate in ignorance. Yeah, so on the cab ride into the city I went from feeling like ok, this is it, it's ok, I'm ok to crawling into bed thinking what have I done!?

Got up at noon today, wandered through the area I'm staying, not as slum like in the day!, was less slummy in feel, thank goodness! Went for breakfast (lunch) at this place that was recommended by my guidebook in this area. Watched 2 cochroaches run across the floor. Little to medium sized. And I still ate a croissant and had tea. Figure I might as well get used to them!

I have to say that it's been an interesting day. Again I've fluctuated from feeling like I can't handle this to feeling like no, I'm good, this is fun. I'm constantly being approached, everywhere, by men, always. And everyone is trying to sell you something it seems. There have been a couple of genuine exceptions, but as a rule it's always the same. If it's not to sell you something from their store, or try to harrass you into taking a cab ride, or trying to accompany you into a store so that they get a commision on anything you buy, then it's to look you up and down. It's very tiring! But some are better than others at taking the no. Everyone asks me where I'm from, and they all have friends in Canada.

The last one commented on the fact that I was smiling and seemed happy (I was, because the last "scam" had been very forthright and good natured and we'd had a pleasant conversation). So this one asks me again, where am I from, and when I say Montreal, he asks if I speak French, when I say yes, he asks me if I can translate a letter that a friend sent him. Sometimes it's easier to say yes, so I did figuring it was harmless. Oh no, I went into his shop only to find myself reading a personal recommendation about travel tours. Then was told that my plans weren't going to afford me the time or ability to see various things. I said yes, I know, but what can you do, India's a big place and there's no way I can see all of it. And I've booked my train tickets, so I'm set. Then I'm told that my tickets can be cancelled, etc, etc, etc... So finally I get out and a guy who'd tried earlier tried again. Telling me that I need to be open to India and to trust, even though if he was in my shoes....

So I'm exhausted!

But on the positive side, I was approached by one guy who was very nice, sat and had tea with him and had a lovely conversation about Delhi. He didn't try to sell me anything, just wanted to chat and see what my impression of the city is thus far.

Oh, and I'm wearing a fake wedding ring... and everyone asks if I'm married, how old I am... but half don't ask my name! The most common response is why isn't my husband with me, I'd get harrassed less. Go figure!

Anyways, long post ends now. Going to seek food, in a hopefully hidden cochroach zone! :{

Then I think it's bed. I'm exhausted. Old Delhi is the plan for tomorrow.

Current Location: Delhi

2/3/07 11:37 am - Dubai

London: check!

Had a great time. Finally saw the Tower of London, Big Ben, etc, etc. Felt like I spent more than 2 days there, it was full of adventures. The weather was beautiful, 12 degrees to be exact. Felt like spring. Rode on a double decker (ok I've done that lots before...), drank wine in a wine cellar bar, very cool but not for the clausterphobic! Follow the link if you want to see what I mean:

Helped the friend pull (pick up for us regular Cdn types) an interesting bloke! Drank way too much while I was there.

Saw the Phantom of the Opera, never seen that before. Check and done, more things off the list of things to do before....

Flew to Dubai with Emirates air, which is a pretty sweet airline. I mean, you're still squished like sardines, but the service wsa pretty sweet. Movies, games, great food... yeah, I was impressed. Which is strange to say, but so far, they've been the best airline that I've flown with.

Anyways, going to go check out the airport. Never been the only white girl (or one of the few) before. I'm both interestingly aware and not aware of it. Strange I know, but whatever.

Only 2 more hours until I leave for Delhi. Woo hoo! I'm soooo excited.

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