Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Delhi - my last post

I was looking through my posts because i have already forgotten what happened a few months back and I think i drafted, but never posted, a post about the ashram (Feb 9, 2011), so there's a post way back that you may not have seen.(either that or I just duplicated it)

I was nervous of coming to Delhi, partly because most people I met said they didn't like it and also because I'd had a wonderful, trouble free trip - too good to be true!  But, I liked Delhi.  They have the most fabulous subway system that was upgraded last year (for the Commonwealth Games or something like that). Brand new trains with no food or drink allowed, first car of every train is women only, some stations have fences so you know exactly where to line up for the doors (yes, an actual line up) and you buy a token based on the distance you're going - you swipe it to get in then deposit it to get out. I tried to avoid rush hour, but by 3:30 pm it was getting quite crowded and was about to get on a regular car but when I saw them all squishing up I chickened out, did a u-turn at the last second and headed for the ladies car.

I went to the Red Fort (was nice but no big deal) and took the subway to some not-so-touristy shopping areas but otherwise didn't do all that much even though the days flew by (couldn't bring myself to go to the market in Old Delhi - some other time) They had a park and a shopping area in Connaught place  - didn't shop, just wandered around eating popsicles.

So, I'm back in Toronto, feeling like my trip was just a dream and I've woken up again.  I'm so very grateful to everyone who supported me (which includes the hundreds on Indians that helped me find my way and always made sure that I got off at my station) and helped me make my dream come true.  I also realized another dream of mine can now  come true - to retire in a warm country for at least a few years - I could easily live in India - I just wouldn't travel so much and would stay in my favourite cities. I never at any time felt unsafe.  Daniel, the Brazilian guy on the camel trip was reading 'The Alchemist' so I thought I would give it a try when I found it.  It's a wonderful book about realizing your dreams and finding your treasure in life, so it was an appropriate book to finish off my trip.

As I was sitting in my Timothy's on the corner of Bay and  Charles having my chai latte and blueberry muffin (like I do every weekend)  I thought 'wow, I can make my dreams come true'  and so I then wondered - what's my next dream that I'm going to make come true?  And how can I help make other people's dreams come true?  because that would be just as much fun.   So let me know if I can help you . . . . . . . .

Thank you and see you soon!

Love you Bubba!
XXXXOOOO









Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Varanasi/Darjeeling

I'm in Delhi at the Metropolis Tourist Home (and pleasantly surprised that I really like Delhi!)

I didn't do to much in Varanasi except walk and sit on the ghats (still avoiding the shopping) and only went on the main street to eat breakfast.  The rickshaw driver from the train station drove so far and then said he would walk me to my hotel - through a maze of alleys, I thought he must be taking me in the back way but when I asked, he said no, this is the only way. That hotel was full so he said he would help me (I knew he would get a commission but quite frankly, I was completely lost in these alleyways and didn't really care) after two more that I declined (too dark, too many flies for the price they were asking) and two that also had no available rooms, we found the Elvis Guest House, nicer room and cheaper price.

I call Varanasi the city of flies - so many that i was afraid to open my mouth, afraid they would fly in.  Directions from the hotel guy included "turn left at garbage corner" - found it without problem and for a time, one of my landmarks to get to my hotel was 'turn right at the dead rat' - I figured by the time it was gone I would know my way.  The ghats were beautiful and quite empty; we only see them with millions of people coming for a religious occasion.  I was staying at the south end, well away from the action.

The kids here seemed to be running all the businesses- not sure if they went to school or not, so that was the only really bothersome thing.  The young boy at the internet cafe was about 12, said he had no father so didn't go to school.  When I tipped him on my last day he ran after me to tell me I'd given him too much money; another young boy outside a shop, 12 going on 40 "come right in, I have some lovely punjabi suits, just for you" and then there were the girls selling puja candles/flowers to float on the water.

While walking along one day, one of the flower girls asked me if I had any foreign money, she said she collected it.  She offered to take me to her house so i could see her collection.  I said sorry, no foreign money and she went on her way.  The next day, another girl came up to me and asked if I would by a two dollar American bill from her, I gave her Rs. 100 which is all I had.  Back at the hotel, I put the American money in my suitcase thinking I wouldn't need it here.  Next day, the first girl comes back to me and asks me again if I have any foreign money I can give her.  I say no, she said 'are you sure?" "Yup" .  Yes, I'm a bit slow sometimes, it wasn't until I saw the two of them playing together later that day that I realized their little game.  They ran by smiling and waving at me, I couldn't be mad, they were just kids.
Evening boat ride down to the puja ceremony

5:30 am Having the girl in the pic was not planned, I was just aiming and she rose up the stairs,  seemingly out of know where just as I was clicking.  Of course, she was coming to sell me flowers. 'Good morning Miss Canada" she said.

7:30 am The is the view from the balcony where I ate breakfast each day.  Restaurants like this had great and cheap food.

I walked along the ghats, stopping to have chai every once in awhile and going for breakfast. By 11 am, they were almost deserted, sun was very strong but it went behind the buildings by 3 pm, so I cam back then.

10:00 am

3:30 pm
I took an overnight train from Varanasi to the closest station and took a shared jeep up the mountain. On the train, in 3rd class sleeper, I found myself among a bunch of men, only one that spoke English.  He very nicely  told me there was no room for my suitcase under the bottom bunks and I would have to take it up to the top bunk with me.  I sat down and kindly said that that was just not possible, there would be no room for me to sleep if I did that.  He tried again, and  I said no. He smiled and said OK and they rearranged stuff to make room for my suitcase, no hard feelings.  They asked about my husband, I told them he had been working in Delhi but would be meeting me in Darjeeling.

The men spread out a sheet between them and played cards; I went to sleep. Then next morning, the one guy that spoke English told me the train was three hours late and said good bye, he was getting off at the next stop.  I thought, but wait, who's going to tell me when my stop comes up???  I've been totally dependent on the kindness of strangers to kick me off at my station. Another English speaking man came up and started chatting with me, he seemed to know about my 'husband' and the conversation from the day before but he didn't look familiar.  Before i could mention where I wanted to get off he said, gather your things, this is your stop coming up.  The kindness of strangers. Or perhaps i should say, their kindness to strangers.

The jeep share up the mountain was another adventure, our jeep broke down three quarters up the mountain.  They tried to fix it to no avail, we had to wait about an hour for another jeep to come get us. No harm done. Had to try a few hotels before I found one, it was at the very top of the hill with a beautiful although pretty cloudy view.

Darjeeling was a breath of fresh air in many ways - it was cool - socks, shoes, pashmina and soup weather but there were many cafe type places (with glass windows!) to sit and have tea. Most of the people here appeared to be Tibetan or Nepalese and shop/stall keepers would sit in their stalls and not say a word.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy all the time so I didn't see the beautiful mountain views but that's ok (I had checked the weather forecast and knew that was most likely going to happen.

I went to the Tibetan Refugee Centre and the walk back - an hour uphill of zigzagging paths - became brutal  but I think it had something to do with my luck running out in terms of avoiding Delhi Belly (or I"m in incredibly bad shape).  After a day and a half of  feeling crappy, afraid to stray to far from the bathroom, I started my antibiotic pills I had with me (not sure I really needed it but thought it couldn't hurt) and the next day I was back to normal.  However, it did leave me a little tired and I found the streets, which were kinda steep, a bit hard to climb, so I didn't explore the way I usually do.  I did run into a guy I met at the train station (my age!) and we went for tea and then had breakfast the next day.  I paid for my own breakfast but I'm still counting this as a date (my goal every year is to have 2 dates so I'm half-way there!)
These kids helped me find the Tibetan Refugee Centre - they lived there.

View down the mountain.  Unfortunately, they are dumping their garbage down the mountain so some spots have alot of accummulation.

Tilt left - not all the streets were quite this steep - but a bonus as they were too steep for cars and rickshaws.

 A second before I snapped the visibility was much better.
 I will do one last update on Delhi when I am back home - only 2 days left! 




.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jaipur/Agra/Khajuraho

In Varanasi, leaving for Darjeeling on a train tonight .  From Bagdogra/Darjeeling will fly to Delhi on the 4th for my flight home on the 8th.


All the elephants seemed happy and not minding standing around or having alot of people around (all females - I asked before getting to close as there was a festival in the south where a few people were killed by a male.

Holi in Jaipur - I look kinda drunk but wasn't

There were little areas like this of people dancing but for the most part, the streets were empty.  Only women out on the street were foreigners (Indian women celebrate at home)

Nana and me.  He said he was 76 years old.  He doesn't have a black eye, it was some purple powder.

Elephant Festival - I couldn't get anywhere close to that dressed up ones so went over to the others.
Not sure exactly what it was about Jaipur but I didn't really care for it - could have been the hotel staff - although very friendly, never smiled; or the relentless rickshaw drivers and store clerks or maybe PMS and tired of travelling so in Agra I went to the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort. Fatehpur Sikri and the park on the other side of the river behind the Taj but otherwise stayed clear of any stores and stayed out of the tourist area completely, including hotel.


I arrived at the Taj at 6:30 am (already a line up to get in) and ran into some young people I met on the bus the day before, they invited me to come with them - they had a guide which means not standing in line for a ticket, although I didn't want a guide the no-line-up appealled to me so I said ok  (the sun was already up in the air at this point but this is the earliest they open).  The guide was a nice young man, not married yet but had met his bride to be 5 times in a restaurant, he didn't tell us anything I hadn't heard already and I questioned some of it ( so what else is new) but he knew all the picture spots and took some good pics of me (unfortunatley, at this hour of the morning I didn't look so good).  At the end of our tour there was some issue with the amount  - as I wasn't there to begin with I just listened - the guide was very sweet and just said "it's ok, money isn't that important.  It's important that you have a good time in India and come back one day" but his body language, his face and his voice reminded me of  someone who realizes they have really screwed up.


The other two left and I wandered around on my own for another hour, and of course the guide's words stuck with me. I know what you're thinking, and yes, I'm a sucker, especially for young men who are Nick's age.  I always ask myself, if this were Nick, how would I want others to treat him?  When I came out, the guide was sitting with his friends, he smiled and pointed in the direction the other two went.  I offered him some more money (just a few dollars), he declined but I insisted.  As I'm having my  breakfast down the street, he comes in "I don't want any bad karma, I want to give you back the money".  He tried to explain about the difference in price - something to the effect that he has to give the ticker providers a share of his tour fee and when we added the third person, they wanted more money from him.  Never knowing when I can believe someone or not, I told him to keep the money, it's not that much and to help someone who really needs it if he's worried about bad karma. He offered to pay for my breakfast, I declined, then he asked if I would like to come back to the Taj for sunset (the ticket is good for one entry only), he could get me in. When I phoned later in the afternoon, he said just have your ticket in hand and if they ask, you were at the lockers, I'll meet you just inside. When I got there, no one even asked to look at my ticket. So, I think we're even now and I was grateful to find out about coming back later in the day.

The temples at Khujaraho were beautiful, was only there for the day arriving in the morning and leaving at night. 
6:30 am

Quality of this pic is not that good but shows the detail that you don't see from a distance - all inlaid stone.  Back writing is onyx, flowers part - green is jade, orange is coral (or so the guide said)

Inlaid stone detail

Very hazy day.

This was in the afternoon - the pics of me on the Princess Di bench in the morning were not good so when I went back in the afternoon, the photographers were fighting (one was taking too long and there's no such thing as a line up to wait your turn) so I just decided to stand to one side. the cloud around the minaret on the left is my camera dust from holi got in my camera.

Tilt left - I think because of the time of year, the sunrsie/sunset wasn't in the best place for photos, but it was still quite pretty.  This is one of the minarets behind the Taj, along the river

Tilt left - Fatehpur Sikri had the most beautitul, delicate jalis, you still couldn't see in from the outside. Still trying to figure out how I can get one of these back to Canada.

Fatehpur Sikra - many of the buildings were entirely covered with carvings. You have to imagine silk curtains hanging and lots of cushions.



Khujaraho - there weren't many that were this explicit  (don't worry, I got pics of all of them). Kind of made me wonder if there was just one really naughty stone carver and they said to him after a couple 'ok, we'll use those, but no more like that'


Tilt left - Most of the carvings were up high, and not as big as I thought (from pics, had the impression that they were life size or a least a few feet but they were more between 8 - 18 inches)





Love you Bubba
XXXXXOOOOOO

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bikaner/Jaipur

karni mata rat temple in Bikaner
Here in Agra, leaving tonight on an all night train to Khajuraho for the day then another night train to Varanasi - was trying to avoid a day like this but the trains don't run that often and ti's too far for the bus.  Could not find decent internet nor computers in general in Jaipur or Agra so too frustrating to update lately.

Bikaner was a small town, a little noisier than Jaisalmer but still very nice (I do wish I had stayed in Jaisalmer another day or two).  The fort was red sandstone so very pretty.  Also visited the Karni Mata temple where all the rats are - it wasn't as creepy as I thought it would be.  Since it's a temple, you have to remove your shoes so I was expecting to step in poop, but it was surprisingly clean and only the odd smelly corner.  I went in the afternoon, I think it was nap time as the guy I was talking to said that there weren't to many rats around (maybe 250 - 300) but later in the evening, there would be thousands.  They didn't seem to care that people were there, the younger ones were playing around and kinda cute.  They were brown and not so big.

Also went to a camel research centre, saw some baby camels but otherwise not really worth the trip.

Several travellers I met in the south said that people in the north weren't as friendly which has not been the case (for me anyways).  Much fewer people speak English so it's a little harder to find your way or ask questions but that's to be expected. They do stare more here but I seem to be the only foreigner walking around so not surprising.  When I realized at 6 pm that I could not get on an non-AC bus to Jaipur (getting very hot, would have been torture) the next morning, I decided to take an overnight train that night and at this late time, would have to go down to the station to see if a ticket was available.  The hotel guy offered to come with me, which was so nice and then as we were leaving he said I looked tired, so he went alone and got my ticket.  The hotel people in Rajasthan have been more friendly and helpful than anywhere else.

Jaipur was very spread out which meant having to use a rickshaw driver to go almost anywhere.  The old city was laid out in straight rows and cross streets - a pleasant surprise - all all these streets were lined with stores - several kilometers!  However almost every store person came out to try drag me in, when they started blocking my way to walk by i stopped going there.  I was here for Holi and had a very nice rickshaw driver take me around, only a few drunks were really obnoxious and i had a good time.  Elephant festival was ok - a tourist attraction - really only a photo op with the elephants and a chance to be up close for while. 

I had one day where i didnt' have much to do and couldn't bear walking the streets so I did what i thought was best - went to a mall (not the same as ours but close enough) went for a sorely needed pedicure, McDonald's for fries and a shake and a Starbuck's type place for a frozen drink, came back and asked for a more expensive room with a TV.  There is no English news on any TV here so i only found out about the Tsuanami and reactor problems in Japan a few days ago in a newspaper. have othewise been cutoff from the world (which is not always a bad thing).

Love you Bubbba
xxxxooooo

In Jaipur, went to the monkey temple - was a bit nervous of them but 3 boys (about 12 years old) sold me some peanuts and said they would come with me so it turned out to be fun.

Once I gave them a peanut they would hang on to my pants or my hand, waiting patiently for another.
Tilt left - this is the back of the Hawa Mahal.
They really were cute and were peaking/coming out of these little cubby holes
Technical difficulties with the pics again so will add more later.









Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jodhpur and Jaisalmer

Here in Bikaner.

So, somewhere awhile back I said that pol meant neighbourhood but realized the next day that pol means 'gate'  (but i'm sure that's what she said).  Just a reminder to everyone that I'm typing all this stuff from my best recollection (which we all know sucks at the best of times) so just wanted to say that please don't take everything I say as verbatim - there's always the internet to check . . . . . except the people stories, they are true. And of course, have left out a million details - will need something to bore you with when i'm back.

Jodhpur was a nice place, I loved the fort but otherwise, not that much to do.  Stayed with a Jain family in their home which was ok, I felt a bit weird walking through their living room and kitchen to get to my room, but they were very nice - they had just opened for business two months ago so were almost too anxious to please.  When I couldn't find anyone else to share a guide to the local villages (which meant paying twice as much) they said they'd never been on the tour and would come with me to share the cost; and when they showed me the rooms, they were a little pricy, so they told me to name my price which was nice.  When I was leaving, the guy took me to the bus stop on his motorcyle - my napsack on the gas tank and my suitcase between us - still much less than I've seen others with - and the streets are so narrow that there's no cars and you can't go very fast (cows and now pigs too).

On the bus, it was very full, I ended up sharing my seat with a woman and three little kids (the forth had to stand) which I didn't mind.  Then one of them vomited.  Not sure which one, I handed over my toilet paper to the mother- she looked at it as if she didn't know what it was, but got them all cleaned up as best she could, and used newspaper for the floor. I escaped relatively unsplashed and just kept my face out the window, but then the mother is motioning  for me to open the window more, I thought to throw the garbage out, nope, she's passing me a kid to hang out the window.  Fortunately, she wasn't sick again (the bus was going so fast, it would have come back in on us, so I was very relieved) and she went back to her mother.  She was probably 5 or 6 but the size of a very skinny 4 year old. After the second time out the window, she stayed on my lap which was fine and was soon asleep.  I had noticed earlier that she didn't have underwear on so was really hoping for no more surprises.  Then her little brother fell asleep on my arm so all was quiet.  Mother was feeding the baby. By the end of the trip (only another half hour), I won't say we were covered in flies, but lets just say there were a few.

I was in Jaisalmer for 4.5 days and now wish I had stayed just another day or two.  My favourite place so far, quiet, very few cars by the fort; really nice hotel owner; wonderful windowseat/sofas built into the rooftop restaurant. Really loving Rajasthan - took me 7 weeks in the south to fill my camera's memory card, took 2 weeks up here. Camels pulling the carts and on the road are the norm here.

The camel safari was great - just me and a young, chatty Brazlian guy Daniel and the two camel drivers. Daniel was our team photographer - he even brought his tripod along.  The two camel drivers have lived in the desert all their lives, no school, have been to Jaisalmer only a few times "the desert is the best".  While we were not in the middle of nowhere all the time - could see power lines and windmills off in the distance sometimes - we got a feel for what it wold be like.  It was warm but there was a breeze so at no time did I think 'can't take much more of this'.  The desert is mostly scrub and small trees with a few small sand dunes.  The stars at night were amazing, 5 shooting stars spotted altogether although they're so fast, i only saw two.  We had 3 more people join us at the dunes in the evening.

My camel was kind of slow, but much easier to ride and direct than a horse.  They always had to make a sound to get him to move a little faster. Late in the afternoon he started trotting all on his own, i thought, finally, some energy!  He had spotted some females off in distant, they told me to rein him in and that worked for about two minutes then he was off again.  The drivers took the reins as we entered an area with at least two dozen females.  My camel was a good boy and behaved well (on a foot of rope he had no choice).  Next morning, he had energy again, and not because of a good nights sleep - had to be a little more forceful but he behaved himself.

Have met lots of interesting, and not so interesting people but again, not enough time to write about all of them.  Met a man from Dublin who retired to India 10 years ago (looked like an old rock star).  He said he tries not to pay more than 200-300 per night and has wandered all over india, leaving every 6 months to renew his visa.

From Bikaner my route will most likely be Jaipur, Agra, Kujaraho (sp?), Varanasi and Delhi.  I've changed my flight to leave on April 8 because I want two weeks to switch back to reality (Canadian time), get off caffeine and back to the gym, find a place to live, etc.   I love India , could definitely live here and am still having a great time and still have a whole month of places to see.


Love you Bubba XXXOOO

Jodhpur from the fort
Mehrangarh fort built in 1806 (i think India's youngest fort)
Village outside Jodhpur - potter is using a 100 year old wheel used by his father and grandfather.  Made lids that precisely fitted the pots just by eye
Tilt left - Bishnoi men have opium every morning for energy to do farm work and every evening (they didn't say what for, didn't ask).  he offered me some, i declined.
Opium guy's daughter was redoing their cow-dung floor.  Didn't smell at all, creates a seal on the dirt that's very easy to sweep clean.  Makes wonderful wallpaper too (have seem some with inlaid mirrors . . . .)
Their home.  Was spotless and cool inside.
Tilt left - visited the weavers and yes, got carried away and bought a carpet but not the one you see.  note their loom is made from wood logs - again, used by parents and grandparents.
When I first got on, the camel was showing his teeth.  I asked if he was angry, they said no, he doesn't like the sun.
Stopping for lunch.  They tie 3 of their legs together so they can't get too far.  Still, they had to use the one to round up the others.
Making lunch.  The farmer on the left came walking out of nowhere and joined us for lunch.
The dunes were very narrow, you can see the scrub on either side but still very neat.  Our footprints started to be swept away after only a few minutes.
Camels are very easy to get along with
Just walking, so no females in sight.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Udaiper

Here in Jodhpur at the Hem Guest House, going to Jaisalemer on Sunday.  I loved Udaiper, everything centres around the lake and the streets are so narrow in the older part that they don't  have too many cars  (which means the motorcycles go faster).   Shared a taxi with a nice French couple up to Ranakpur  temple and Kumbalgarh  fort.  The 3 hours drive up a back road was a beautiful and at times a little scary with the one winding lane for two way traffic up the mountain.  Other than our constantly burping driver, it was a beautiful relaxing day.

Also went walking with an American woman and a guide about two hours outside of Udaiper.  We were hoping to hike the hills but soon realized that there are no paths and they're almost straight up.  Met lots of wonderful people  - in ox-drawn carts, carrying many  things on their heads, making bricks, washing in the river, coming out of their houses to greet us  - none spoke any English  and by the stares, had not  seen many foreigners either.   The guide told us that many have never been to Udaiper, just a bigger village in the other direction.  We had lunch by a river and visited a temple in a cave, then had to bus it back to our startiang point - after 5.5 hours we were beat.

Also met Claire Grove, a very interesting British woman, my age.  She owns a button and bead shop in Cardiff, Wales and comes to India to have buttons made. She gave me this fabulous round silver button with an elephant  in relief and then painted.  I wish I had met Claire sooner instead of the evening before I left Udaiper, we had lots to talk about and she knew the locals - I would have loved to hang out with her for a day.

The  City Palace is beautiful, my favourite so far; every restaurant is on a rooftop and it's quite pretty at night with the lights on the lake river.   Unfortunately, unless you are staying at the Lake Palace Hotel, you can't go there.  Went to a few museums and lazed around on the huge sofa  on the rooftop of my guesthouse having  chai and waiting for my cold to get better  and of course a little retail therapy. The guest house is a 130 year old haveli (mansion) and Raju, the owner, was born here and is the fourth generation.  Also some 'cafes'   where you can just sit for a tea (the first I've found in India) and  they're not Indian  (French and German). Food continues to be great, eating chicken dishes now and avoiding rice.



LOVE YOU BUBBA

XXXOOOOOOO
In Ahmedabad,  on the walking tour.  This elephant  had a smile on his face and seemed very happy.

tilt left  - a mosque on the walking tour

At Lothal, 4,000 year old well

Ranakpur - with lighting and my camera, pics are not so good

Outside of Udaipur, walking

Villagers

Little girl doing her dishes

Walking outside Udaiper - this is their dry season, they said much greener usually

Tilt left - doing laundry .   Didnt take close up as some were also bathing.

Not sure if you can see the guy on the right, he was chopping off huge chunks of rock by himself  which he will then sell to a building company.

Lake Palace  - water looks pretty good here - it's actually green


View from the restaurant/lounge area at the guest house.