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3 posts categorized "Travel"

11/02/2011

Agra, Delhi, Mumbai!

Sorry I haven't been up in a while! I have been running around India like crazy, and now I am back in Hyderabad for 19 more days before I head home to the US. Sounds crazy, and it's starting to get really, well, real, that this is ending. I'm going to write this post about my trip to Agra and Delhi with my parents. They came to visit, and we had so much fun. Here goes...

I met my parents in Delhi late Thursday night after a full day of class. I got some McDonald’s, called a cab, and got to the airport a full three hours early (oooops). So I ate my spicy chicken sandwich really slowly to compensate. And then watched cricket. After a while, it started to fill up, and this man sat down next to me. After probably 20 minutes of watching cricket silently together, he leaned his torso away from me. And farted. Really loud. Right onto me. Bahahaha. I sort of just pretended it didn’t happen. I figured that was the best approach.

Anyway, Mom and Dad were arriving in Delhi an hour before me (their plane was delayed, but still earlier), and I was anxiously waiting to get on the plane. Our boarding time came and went, and then our departure time. We boarded about 45 minutes after we were scheduled for take-off. As per usual in India, no explanation was offered, and Mom and Dad didn’t have phones, so I just hoped they heard on the other end the plane would be late. They didn’t, but I did manage to find Mom right away after collecting my bag, so that was good. Dad had sent some people in after me, and I didn’t see them, but supposedly, I was being paged over the PA system in the airport. I’ve sort of always wanted that to happen, so that was neat. Even though I didn’t hear it.

We went to the pre-paid taxi stand (an invention that Mom and Dad introduced me to – AWESOME) and got a taxi to the hotel we were staying at right near Connaught Place in New Delhi called Le Meridien. It was AWESOME. This is a picture I took from our floor (the 15th) down to the interior lobby.

The hotel, as you can see, was quite striking, and the bed was so comfy! The first morning we were there, it was super hazy outside, (lots of pollution in Delhi) but we headed out on the metro (Delhi has a great subway system!). We bought our tokens and then had a little trouble getting through the gate, and had to ask for directions a few times, but everyone was really friendly. We ended up at the Lotus Temple, which is the Bahai’i temple in Asia. Sad that I went inside this one before I went inside the one in Evanston. All of the petals of the lotus are supposed to represent something, but I can’t remember what. It was gorgeous, though, and very peaceful inside. Sort of like being in a hollowed-out, high ceilinged object. That was a terrible description, but you get what I mean. There were a couple school groups there, and we had to take off our shoes to go in. When we got inside, we sat in the pew for a few minutes, and then left. This is what the temple looked like from the outside (up close and from far away).

On our way to the Temple, we caught a rickshaw for a few Rupees for the last kilometer, and that was the first time I’d encountered an auto driver who wanted to essentially rent himself out to us for the day. However, he also mandated that we see his store. We objected and exited the rickshaw, unaware that this is apparently the custom in Delhi.

We took the next rickshaw we saw to the Raj Ghat, or the place where Gandhiji was assassinated. We checked our shoes in so they wouldn’t get stolen while we walked around. The monument reminded me a lot of the FDR memorial in DC. There was a small sort of shrine to Gandhi in the middle, and the walls around were inscribed with Gandhi quotes in different languages, most of them Indian, and even one in Spanish, but strangely none in English. The language on the right in the one below is Hindi, one of the major languages of India. Gandhi has done some things I don’t know that I necessarily agree with, but the man definitely had a way with words. All of the quotes I could understand were really beautiful.

Into another rickshaw, we headed to the India Gate, a symbol of national unity, and a war memorial built before India was even independent from the British, which didn’t happen until 1947. There wasn’t a lot to see there apart from the Gate itself, unless you count the cute, tiny little school kids with their huge backpacks obviously on a field trip, or the vultures in the tree to the right of the Gate, which was a little creepy.

I was really happy to see Mom and Dad, and I think they were happy to see me too. Dad’s happiness manifested in being in 98% of the pictures of me that I have from this weekend, so you will notice a recurring theme :)

After the India Gate, we toured Embassy Row, which was super anticlimactic. It was just a wide road with all the Embassies on it, which was cool, but they are all hidden behind big walls, obviously, so we mostly looked at the signs. We saw Russia, Poland, Norway, Japan, the US, and strangely, Sudan. What?!? Is there a large Sudanese population in India that I don’t know about? I did snag a picture of me in front of the gate in front of the Prime Minister’s house. AWESOME.

Also, a lot of the cars in Delhi, including the taxis, were really old fashioned. This is one of the cooler ones I saw, but the cabs were all green and black and yellow, and the same make.

Lunch was at this really, really, really nice place in Lodi Park. It was outside, and I had the best salmon I have had in a long time. Also, I discovered that if goat cheese, radish, lettuce, and dressing are all in the same bite, it tastes good. This is the restaurant we ate at (Lodi Park Restaurant).

After lunch, we went to the Supreme Court building because I wanted to see the Museum there. This turned out to be a futile exercise, but it was REALLY cool to see the Supreme Court of India! There was a bomb ordeal there a couple weeks ago, and I sort of wanted to see what all the fuss was about, but everything looked all normal again. We also tried visiting the Indira Gandhi museum for Zoe, but the line was obscenely long. So we gave up on that. But I took a picture in front anyway to prove I was there. Note the staring child :)

The next day, we got up nice and early to hit the Red Fort and the Chandi Chowk market before hopping on the train to Agra. The Fort was HUGE (the outer walls looked really imposing) and it housed troops until not too long ago when it was turned over to the IAS for opening up to the public. In a proud moment, I got the Indian citizen ticket because I am a student at HCU. That was really cool. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make me feel like not such an outsider everywhere I go here.

We went to the market afterward. It was huge, and the paths were really narrow and I am really glad Mom and Dad got to experience the full Indian market experience while they were here. I got a couple suits for when I celebrate Diwali with Anshu’s family (I leave for Mumbai tomorrow night). They are gorgeous, and I am really excited to wear them! Mom has pictures, but I don’t have them yet. We also met a man with one leg who was really helpful at first, but then he kept following us around, and I didn’t really like that. These are pictures of two of the first streets we saw in the market.

I stopped being able to take pictures – the streets got too narrow, and the vendors progressively more aggressive. The men we bought my suits from were funny, and I think Mom and Dad really liked being able to sit down in a shop and see some of the clothes, and the process we go through to buy things here. I admit, I do sort of miss having fixed prices. I know I overpay for almost everything, but I never know by how much.

We didn’t go to the Masjid, the largest in India, because we went to the one in Hyderabad, and we hadn’t heard super positive things from the people I talked to about their experiences visiting.

We got on the train to Agra that night after dinner at the hotel (when I asked for the best way to get to the train station, the man at the front desk said “Find a rickshaw and get in it.” Duh. Thank you Mr. Front Desk).

I really dislike train stations in India, especially when I am the most knowledgeable person in the group. People harass you constantly for buying things, or porters, or just because they want to know where you are going, and there isn’t a way to escape them. I really don’t like that and I sort of lost my temper after having to stand in a tight line at the ticket counter with a bunch of pushing and staring Indian men (sorry, Dad. I sort of took it out on him before I regained my cool). The 1AC train car wasn’t as nice as we were hoping, and the ride was about three hours long. There was a guy about my age in our compartment, but when the officer came to check tickets, he kicked him out in a whirlwind of Hindi. I took Dramamine before the train, so I slept pretty much the whole way there.

Another pre-paid taxi when we got there, and we got to our hotel, supposedly 800 meters from the Taj Mahal. This was a slight exaggeration as we discovered later, but the walk was nice. Even though we got in very late, we woke up at 5:30am to get to the Taj for sunrise. It was hazy, so not as beautiful as it would have been on a clear day, but it wasn’t too hot, and not very crowded. We waited in line outside for a little while, and to our surprise, the women’s line moved faster than the men’s and we got in before Dad. We were standing behind some nice Spanish ladies, and we exchanged a few words when a monkey appeared on the roof above us in the security line. I think pictures will do a better job than words, so maybe just take a look at those :) The last thing I will say is that in true Adam form, we checked out audio guides, so that’s what the headphones are in some pictures.

We were going to go see the Agra Fort, but decided instead to read by the pool. So that was a good decision. We made it back to the hotel before breakfast ended, ate, and then relaxed the rest of the afternoon. In hindsight, this was a great plan, because if we’d walked around anymore, the events of that evening might have been much worse.

Basically, long story short, we hop on a train back to Delhi, and the majority of the staff/police officers working at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (voted the 4th best in the world – by who, I wonder) are totally unhelpful, and served to make it nearly impossible to check into the airport hotel Dad had booked for us. 90 minutes later, Mom was switching her things from one bag to another in the middle of the terminal because we were told we had to check in to get to the hotel, even though our flights were not until the next morning. There was a line of French soldiers coming home from somewhere next to us, and when the men from the hotel finally came down to inform us that contrary to their previous written statement, they could not take me to the hotel because I was a domestic and not an international flight, Dad lost it. There were some angry words spoken, the conclusion of which was the men assuring we would get a refund, and telling us that there wasn’t really anything else they could do for us. This left us to sleep on the benches in the airport, because Mom and Dad didn’t want to leave me by myself to go to the room on their last night with me.

In ironic protest, I took a picture of myself and Dad next to this false sign in the airport.

In three weeks, I will be back at the Delhi airport, waiting for a flight back home to Chicago. Feels pretty surreal!

10/12/2011

The Goa Experience!

Hey Team! I’m back! Goa was amazing, and this should hopefully be a fun post because Goa was so crazy! I am going to start with a couple pictures…

The Portuguese colonized Goa, and left very late, so the influence is still very obvious, especially architecturally. There are many villas with Portuguese names, and churches EVERYWHERE! It’s beautiful, and reminded me a lot of Miami – being by the beach, with gorgeous Western architecture.

The bus ride to Goa was an overnight trip, about 13 hours. We left Hyderabad about 30 minutes behind schedule, and we made some friends here and on the bus who helped us figure out how to do everything. The guy I sat next to on the way there talked to me for a long time about politics in India before I fell asleep, and helped us negotiate cab fare once we got to Goa so that we’d pay more of the Indian price.

We took a cab straight to the beach because our hotel wasn’t open for check-in yet. We stood on the beach for a couple minutes, and then went to lunch. This is what we saw on the beach. The fact that I captured a picture without ANYONE in their tightey-whities is a miracle. In India, women swim in their sarees and other clothes, and men swim in their tiny underwear. Swimsuits are unheard of, even though they are for sale all along the beach. I’m guessing tourists buy them. Goa has like a zillion tourists, but we went in the off season, so it was a little quieter.

We went for lunch, to the hotel, and then back to the beach. The hike to the hotel, though, was a HIKE. We had all our stuff, and it turned out the cab driver had dropped us at the other end of the beach, so we walked a couple of kilometers with our bags, sweat dripping off of us, and we got lost in the back roads leading to our hotel. About 45 minutes later, we arrived at the hotel. Val, Jess, and Karen checked in while I hid out back – we hadn’t told them I’d be there. This is the road behind our hotel, with the girls walking:

Finally, they came to rescue me, and we went up to the room. It was BEAUTIFUL and clean and huge, and had 4 beds. We put our stuff down and headed out again. Before the beach though, we went to grab a late lunch. This place, Eclipse Bar and Grill, was our lunch spot of choice all 5 days we were there.

Onion rings, chicken sandwiches, and fruity drinks – DELICIOUS! The moped in the back belongs to some of our other friends in Goa who rented it while they were there to get around. I wouldn’t have dared to do it – driving in India is NOT something we mess with :)

The beach that we found, and subsequently returned to every day, was mostly empty, and we only had to deal with the occasional passing stare. We took some pictures that night of the beach (and us).

I may or may not be the one in the tie dye. This picture also brings me to my next point. Men in Goa are the most aggressive that I have encountered. Constant catcalling on the street, and countless covert and not so covert photos taken of us. I’ve already made it clear in previous posts that I am tired of feeling like an animal in a zoo, and tired of feeling like a stranger here (especially in Hyderabad – although a girl in class from India yesterday said that everyone in India feels like a stranger because there is so much diversity everywhere. I thought that was interesting).

Anyway, a staring Indian man (or pack of them) was a constant fixture this weekend. Sometimes people asked to take our pictures – sometimes they didn’t. When they did ask, I said no. When they didn’t ask, and I noticed them do it, all hell broke loose. One man kept returning to take pictures on his phone after I had asked him to go away, and finally, I stood up and yelled at him on the beach in front of everyone. All the people around, Indian and tourist, came up to say they thought that I should keep doing that, and they told Jess, Val, and Karen that they were lucky to have such a fierce bodyguard :) But seriously – what is so different about us? We wore swimsuits, but usually had either shorts or a t-shirt on as well. We stayed pretty conservatively dressed, so it was frustrating that there isn’t anything we can do to blend in a little more.

That night, as we were walking to dinner, a couple of guys walked up to us and introduced themselves, asking where we were from. We started talking to them, and finally we made a group decision to go to the nearby restaurant so we could eat and the guys would join us for a drink. We sat there for about two hours just talking and eating our seafood pasta. They were really cool and we talked about everything from the Beatles to politics. They asked where they could watch the rugby world cup, and we told them about our favorite lunch spot that had it on. Matt, Ben, and Joe (good English names) were great company, and we exchanged numbers to maybe meet up again.

The next day, Jess and I woke up and decided it would be a good idea to go parasailing. 800 Rupees and an argument later (after some vendors that Jess had befriended helped us find the best deal), we had a slip of paper in our hands, and were told to come back in one hour. We waited, and then walked back, turning down picture requests right and left. After elbowing our way into the line in true Indian form, we were ushered onto a boat and given a life jacket. We were on this first boat, just sitting in the Indian Ocean, unsure of the next step. After about 20 minutes, another boat came, and we switched places with the passengers on that boat. We sat for another half hour while the crew ate their lunch, and then we started getting ready to parasail! The woman next to me had been in Mauritius before and said it was a lot of fun, so Jess and I harnessed up. Here’s the result:

So this, friends, is parasailing! It was awesome. I am so happy I got to do it. Flying over the water in the Indian Ocean attached to a parachute is a pretty once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I took full advantage of my short air time. Looking out over the shore was really cool, and once I stopped screaming, I really got to look around. Basically, they put you in a harness, attach you to some ropes, and then a mechanical thing starts and slowly lets you out over the water. There were probably a dozen boats out, and it was definitely the best $16 I spent in Goa.

After the beach, we met up with the Englishmen again for a really late dinner (around 9:30pm) and then we ended up going to a sports bar and chatting until 4 in the morning. One of the reasons I love India, and particularly Goa, is that it is full of people from all over the world. Everyone has a different story, and these three guys all went to college together, had just graduated, and were touring India together for 6 weeks. Matt had been sick most of the trip so far, Pete met a German girl he liked the week before Goa (who Matt called the Happy Dinosaur because of her size), and Joe was subtly hilarious. It is so much fun to be able to meet new people everywhere we go, and these three have definitely made the list of favorites so far. Pete and Joe are going into the military in Britain, and Matt is going on to find a job as an engineer. We also met a Swedish girl who couldn’t stay because she was going to meet some Australians she had just met. In the market earlier that day, as Jess was making another impulse purchase, I heard someone behind me say “que piensas?” (“what do you think” in Spanish). I turned around and had a nice conversation in Spanish with two girls from Mexico City. In India. I love meeting people from all over, and I think that’s why I like languages so much. The more you know, the more you can talk to people. And how cool is it to come home with new friends not just in India, but all over the world?

Val and Karen left the next day, to the dismay of the many beach vendors we had met and bought things from. Ankle bracelets, toe rings, manicures with diamond studs (only in India do you get a great manicure, except they forget to cut your nails first), necklaces, earrings… Everything under the sun. Jess makes friends with vendors, but also gets the best prices, so she is really fun just to watch in action. On the last day, the boys who Jess had bought earrings and necklaces from and who had hooked us up with a discount on the parasailing, gave Jess a whole box of earrings because they liked her so much. What a party, yeah?

 

Our last morning, all we wanted to do was sit on the beach. So that’s what we did. Goa was BEAUTIFUL, and I highly recommend parasailing :)

09/14/2011

Ganesh and Gujarat

I got back from Gujarat late last night, and holy moly. Jess and I had quite the weekend. I was really excited to go to Gujarat (I felt like I was back in New Jersey, to be honest) and I was excited to go with Jess. She is really fun, and we don’t spend much time together because she is in a homestay and not in any of my classes.

Before I get to Gujarat, though, I want to take a second to talk about the Ganesh Festival that happens all over India around this time. It is an 11 day festival and essentially marks a new year in the Hindu calendar. Basically, this means that people erect small, or large, shrines to Ganesh everywhere, play loud religious music from speakers, and set up Christmas lights everywhere. Part of the ritual is that at the end of the 11 days, everyone ceremonially marches their Ganesh idol to a body of water, accompanied by drums and dancing, and puts the idol in the water, and leaves it there. Many of the idols now are made of clay so they are more eco friendly. We visited the largest moveable, eco-friendly Ganesha in India. Standing at 55 feet, and made of clay and other environmentally-friendly materials, it was submerged in the lake sometime Sunday.I put in a picture of me in front of it – we went to visit before leaving!

They lift it with a crane to put in the lake. It was next to the mall, which I thought was funny.

Anyways, Jess and I hopped in a cab to the airport straight from the idol. We flew into the Ahmedabad airport, landing around 11pm. From there, we took an insanely overpriced rickshaw (400 Rs.) to the hotel. On the way, the rickshaw drivers tried to persuade us that we should go to a different hotel. We didn’t listen, but perhaps should have. The man didn’t speak any English at the front desk, so it’s a good thing I have been paying attention in Hindi! I put in a picture of our bathroom to illustrate a bit of our room. I left out the one where Jess wrote our names on the wall through the thick layer of dirt.

What you cannot see in this picture is that we used a bucket to shower with, and it remains unclear as to whether this is the same bucket that many Indian people still use to clean themselves after using the toilet. Jess and I laughed it off for two nights, and then decided we could afford a move to a nicer hotel. One of the best decisions I have made in India, definitely :-)

The first morning, we woke up early, skipped breakfast, because as we found out later, there is an Old Ahmedabad, and a New Ahmedabad, and we were on the Old side, with not many food options that would leave us without severe stomach upset. Refer to toilet picture above for our reasoning behind being wary of our food consumption. We visited the Dada Hari Wav Step Well, built a really long time ago, and is essentially a well, about 100 yards by 100 yards, and ornately carved, roughly 5 stories below ground. The picture below is of Jess and I, two stories under ground in the well.

Our “tour guide” at the well was named Mukesh. He was old, and spoke like 10 words of English, so I got to practice my Hindi again. We have learned a lot in two months! Jess is taking Telugu, so she picked up really fast how to say some of the basic stuff in Hindi, but mostly, it was all me. After the well, we visited the Hatheesingh Jain Temple. On the way, we caught a rickshaw, and the driver said, “OK, 200 Rupees.” Now, Jess and I don’t know Ahmedabad, but we’ve been in India long enough to know when we are being ripped off. And it’s not so much about the money, as it is about the principle of it. So it was break time for a local school and about 50 kids around 9 years old streamed into the street. One, who seemed bigger, but not older than the others, elbowed his way to the front, and said proudly, “I speak English!” He then yelled at the rickshaw driver, and I understand enough Hindi to know sort of what he was saying. In the end, we had a mob of people around us, all yelling, a sheepish looking rickshaw driver, and a happy kid. He shook our hands, and we got into our rickshaw, now only 15 Rs.

On our way to the Market, we stopped at a Mosque. In the middle of all the chaos of the city, there was a quiet, peaceful, open square, with a pool in the middle, and it was beautiful. In all, we spent a lot of time at the Main Market in Ahmedabad, where we bought dandya (sticks used in raas, a dance traditional in Gujarat) and jewelry. We found a movie store and each bought 6 or 7 Bollywood movies – I got a lot of the classics that I haven’t seen yet, but have been meaning to watch. I am really excited to get started on those! We ended up going to see a Bollywood movie in the theater as well, called “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan” (My Brother’s Wife) and it was SO good. It was opening day, and movie theaters in India are crazy places anyway, so it was fun to be there!

We ended the day at the Law Garden Night Market, which is a huge market where they sell everything, but mostly traditional clothing this time of year because the Navratri (spelling uncertain) Festival is coming. I bought a half sari from the guys in the picture below – it is bright red, blue, and yellow, and has mirrors sewn onto it. I have no idea when I will ever wear it. But I love it.

They were really funny, and really nice, and fun to bargain with, so when we went back the next night we took this picture. We also met our friends Ishan and Raj there. They were asking people questions about how they could make Ahmedabad more tourist friendly, and they were local university students. They asked us some questions, and then left us to keep shopping. When we were trying to find a rickshaw back to the hotel, we had some trouble, and Ishan came over, and tried bargaining for us, and then said, “You know what, we’ll just take you.” They seemed nice, so Jess and I went with them. They WERE really nice – they took us back, and talked to us about Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and going to school there, and gave us their number in case we needed help. We thanked them and went back to our gross hotel room for the night :-)

The next morning, we went to see Gandhi’s ashram, which is where he lived with his closest followers and did a lot of his planning. I have mixed feelings about Gandhi, but it was cool to see the ashram! Pictures below:

There were trees with different names – this is me in front of the Peace tree. The Love tree looked a little neglected, so I don’t have a picture with it :-) After the ashram, we went to find lunch and a new hotel, and then went with Raj and Kishan (not to be confused with Ishan) to a park on the other side of town. There was a huge lake, and a walking path, and a train for kids, and a small amusement park. The guys took us around the whole park and I rode on my first carnival rides in India – super fun! The way it works here, and I guess at home too, is that guests don’t pay, so the guys paid for everything, which was so nice. They are planning on coming to grad school in the US, one to Purdue, so we promised to take them around when they come in a couple years. We had a really great time with them, and it was so good to see the city with people our age who live there. Picture of them with Jess at the park is below.

They dropped us off again at another temple we wanted to see, and then we headed to McDonald’s for dinner – YESSSSSSS.

Our hotel that night (the new one) was so nice. We felt like royalty there. And didn’t have to take a bucket shower. We had about a half day the next day, so we went back to the Main Market, and each walked away with a new sari. Mine is BEAUTIFUL light blue with silver sparkly detailing. IT is gorgeous. I think I am going to start wearing them at home because I like them so much :-)

We went to see another movie because we had to check out of the hotel at noon, and our flight wasn’t until 6pm, so we needed something where we could bring all our stuff. There is a lot of security at movie theaters anyway, but there was also a terrorist threat in Ahmedabad that weekend that came in about the same time we did, and we had all our bags, so we had to pretty much unpack them at the movies :-) The lady looked at us like we were crazy when we arrived carrying all our stuff. We were not in the mood though – another harrowing rickshaw ride had just come to pass. The movie, “Bodyguard” was TERRIBLE, but laughably so, so we enjoyed it.

After the movie, we saw the guys one more time, and they came with us to the airport to see us off. It was so cool to meet people who were so friendly, and so genuinely nice to us. They didn’t look at us like were anything strange or different. It was like hanging out with friends again, and I missed that. They said bye at the airport, and went back to school to do homework, and we went to check in.

The Ahmedabad airport is hilarious. It’s tiny, especially given that Ahmedabad is the capitol of Gujarat. We went to Subway, only to find they didn’t take credit cards, and only to find that we were 30 Rs. short. Dismayed, we asked if there was an ATM. They said no. What to do? Fortunately for us, the man behind us, Indian in appearance, Australian in accent, offered us 30 Rs. to complete the transaction. We thanked him profusely, and went to sit and wait for our flight. This is me happily eating my cookie in the airport. Thank you, mystery man with 30 Rs.

Overall, the theme of the weekend was the kindness of strangers. People in Ahmedabad were really friendly people, saying “hello” and “good afternoon” everywhere we went, and the usual “from which country, Madam?” We have started saying Hyderabad, because it really does feel like home. Traveling through India has shown me very clearly that people who take advantage of other people can ruin a moment, but the vast majority of people are friendly, honest, and genuine people, who might just be a little curious, and they can make a whole trip worth it. Jess and I would have had a totally different experience had we gone and not met Ishan, Kishan, and Raj. And I am so glad we did meet them. And I am glad I bought that half sari. Even if I have nothing to wear it to.