New Delhi, Agra, Fatephur sikri, and Jaipur, India
07.12.2007 - 12.12.2007 18 °C
So we had heard several horror stories about India from other backpackers prior to our arrival. I had been so excited to leave one country and get into another, ready to take on a new adventre and challenge. But I was dreading India.
Myth1: Cows roam the streets. So if they block traffic, they block traffic. The end.
True: Cows are sacred here and they roam the streets pooping and peeing everywhere. They can stand with their intimidating horns right next to you as you wait to cross the street. So beef is not on the menu here anywhere. Eating a cow is like eating your dog in the States.
Myth 2: Men stare and follow you down the street, especially if you are fair colored with blue eyes (like Ellen)
True. They hassle you even after you say "no" several times. They try to sell you things and constantly ask you random questions. "where are you from?" The only thing that worked really well was to say, "f#$@*k off!" ANother traveller told us this trick. Indian men hate to be embarrassed so if they hassle you, just yell at them and they'll bow their heads and sheepishly walk away.
Myth 3: It smells here.
True. With all the livestock in the streets, of course it smells. Like a zoo. There are public urinals everywhere, but men just randomly pee anywhere, on the sides of streets, wherever. Someone told us the trick is to smear Vicks vapor rub to mask the smells... Only a temporary reprieve, however.... very short lasting.
Myth 4: They slash your pockets in trains to steal your money.
??? We get on our 1st train tomorrow, but opted for a higher class with a security guard, so hopefully, that will deter any thieves.
Myth 5: Delhi Belly aka "the Both Ends Phonomenon." Hygiene is a joke here. People spit everywhere. They pee on the sides of the road, then go back to their street stall to serve you food. Ellen and I wish we could douse ourselves with Purell antibacterial gel. We brush our teeth using bottled water.
True. Haven't had it to us... knock on wood. But we've heard other travellers while after eating a slice of tomato (washed in their tap water) have 5 bouths of pooping and puking at the same time over a nasty squat toilet.
Myth 6: Men take their pictures with you, again if you're fair haired and light eye colored. So they can show your picture to someone at the Indian Embassy, calling you their girlfriend who is waiting for you in the States, in hopes to get a visa to America.
??? Don't know but Ellen's had to block several attempted photos of her on the streets. Who knows what they'll use the pics for.
Anyway, when we arrived, we went straight to our Hotel... recommended in the Lonely Planet. Hotel Namaskar. You had to walk through a bustling bazaar, passed the reeking urinals, down an alley to reach the hotel. The room is windowless and we can hear the conversation of the people next door via a hole in the wall. But the 2 brothers who own the place are so helpful and sweet.
We met up with Sachin, Elen's college friend, at the Taj Palace Hotel... a really posh hotel. We went to a wedding... as in the title of the blog. But everyone is invited to Indian weddings. We didn't have anything to wear, so Sachin's mom let us borrow some of her clothes, which was really nice. Then we proceeded to the wedding held at an outdoor farm house. I pictured sitting on haystacks with cows and goats. But this place was jut a huge piece of open land, decorated with thousands of lights, beautiful tents, a huge buffet spread, bonfires and heaters everywhere, and hot appetizers being erved by sheik dressed men. It was amazingly beautiful. The food was delicious, but it got really cold and the gas burners started diyng out by 1:30 am. That night, after stuffing ourselves, and watching the entertaining spectacle of an Indian wedding party, we made it back to our nasty hotel t 4am.
The next night, we went to another wedding party for the same couple held at the Taj Palace. Being warm and full of food (again) we were actually able to enjoy the night and dance away.
We did some sight seeing...
Humayun's Tomb... a mini Taj Mahal in Delhi
India Gate: a mini Arc de Triumph (like in Paris)
We took a 4 day, 3 night trip, hiring a personal driver (cuz we're flashpackers) that took us from Delhi to Agra to Fatephur Sikri to Jaipur and back to Delhi. Charlie, our driver drve us 4 hours away to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Another surreal moment. You hear about one of the 7 wonders of the world, but to actually see it with your own eyes, is simply spectacular. It a a hazy day, but it was still amazing. The white marble walls with intricate carvings and jewel work. Shah Jehan had built it in the 17th century as a tomb for his wife. She died while giving birth to their 14th child. He was so distraught, his hair turned white overnight. It took decaeds to build the Taj Mahal. He had the finest marble hauled all the way from Rajasthan 200 km away, jewels and precious stones from Asia and the Middle East. It is the largest monument built for love. How romantic.
That night we drove into Fatephur Sikri, a small town a couple of hours away. We slept there that night and enjoyed some really hospitable people and good food. The next morning, we went to see the palace and fort of the town, which was conveniently across the street. A beautiful marble mausoleum of a holy man and the 2nd largest mosque in all of India were the main structures of the grounds.
Then we drove into Jaipur late afternoon. Jaipur is called the pink city. There is an enclosed city within pink walls. All the buildings are pink. We wanted to watch a Bollywood movie and Raj Mandir cinema was the place to do it. Charlie said that if we paid for his ticket he would watch it with us and then drive us home. We did, it was only 2 USD. There were assigned seats, popcorn and chips, and a huge screen. The theater was packed. We saw Aaja Nachle. Supposedly the actress made several Bollywood movies and then disappeared for years to have children. This was her come-back film. The story was overly dramatic with lots of song and dance, which was really entertaining. We didn't need any translation, the dramatics made it easy to follow. The story line was pretty shallow and cheesy (an Indian woman who ran away with an American to New York, disgracing her family, then returning to India to find that the dance facility that she grew up in was being torn down for a shopping mall. She fought the "bad guy" by raising some awareness and creating a dance show to save the dance hall, then ends up hooking up with the "bad guy"). Always lots of dancing. Lots of singing. Lots of theatrics. Lots of music. Always a happy ending. That's Bollywood.
We saw the sights of Jaipur the next day. The Amber Fort, Janter Manter (astrology center) and Hawa Mahal (Jaipur's most distinctive landmark, a palace built for women.)
Then took a cycle rickshaw back to our hotel.
See the traffic on the streets of Jaipur.
We stayed at the Hotel Pearl Palace that night. It's also in the Lonely Planet. It's known for its delicious food on their rooftop restaurant. The facilities were clean and comfortable. The people were so friendly. The internet was fast. They had hot showers and I slept comfortably (warm and quiet). I forgot I was in India for a night.
Now we're back in Delhi, sitting in an internet cafe in an alley. It's cold. It's crowded. It's dirty. I'm homesick.
Overall, India isn't so bad. In retrospect, I think I see clearer. It sucks as you're going through the motions of fighting the crowds, or ignoring the aggressive men, oo covering your nose as you walk past a urinal... but I survived. The people at most of the hotels we've stayed at have been so polite and nice. They've genuinely been helpful. And I always appreciate a little bit of hospitality in this crazy backpacker world.
We'll be in a 10 day meditation camp in Pune. We'll be taking a 27 hour train ride to get there, and since we're flashpackers, we upgraded to an upper class berth. But for 10 days, there is no talking, no eye contact, no gesturing, no music (holy crap), no reading, and no writing. I can't even wish Ellen a "merry Christmas." I'm really scared. We meditate all day, do chores, and can't eat past midday. No eating?!?! But hopefully, (again in retrospect) that I will become a more grounded, patient, and stronger person after this. I just want to learn a few meditation techniques to ease me back into the working world, the debts, the student loans, and the 401Ks.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!!!