Friday, March 16, 2007

Last Day

What a sad day :(
Today I worked a late day to finish up as much as I could. None of crew was anxious to go out tonight, I think they all got their fill last weekend! I made my rounds and sad goodbye to everyone. A couple of goodbyes were terribly difficult as I had felt that we had grown to be good friends in such a short while. I have found a happiness here that I didn't have back in my busy LA lifestyle. Some inner peace... Maybe it would all fade away once the monotony of the daily routine kicked in. I'm sure it would, but I can see why Jude wants to move here permanently. The happiness here is contagious. The world can be crumbling around you and you still can feel deep down inside that "Life is Good".

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Solo Adventure

Today is my last weekend day in India, so I needed to make the most of it. I didn't really have anything planned other than wanting to go to Kotachiwadi, an old Christian enclave. This was all the way in downtown though so I to get there I decided to learn from yesterday and take the train... by myself. I was so glad I chose to do that rather than take a cab for 10 times the price. It was a nice peaceful ride where I got a chance to try and plan my day.

After arriving at my stop I spent alot of time wandering around asking directions on how to find the hidden neighborhood. There is only one main entrance, and it is a tiny alley-like street that you could easily pass without noticing. I walked around the meandering small streets and was sadly disappointed. If I had a tourguide telling me stories of all the history here, it may have made a difference. The most interesting part of this area was the group of young boys playing cricket in the street. There was barely enough room for a single tiny car to make it through between the other parked cars, but yet here they were playing the game of India. The ball would bounce off of car doors, roll under cars, and bounce off buildings, but that was all part of the game. It sort of made me wonder if cricket was so popular in India because you could still play in a relatively small area. Baseball requires alot more space to have all the bases to run to and more players to man all the bases. Cricket just needs a little brother to run and fetch the ball in obscure places!

After the disappointing main destination, I decided just to explore. I looked up a fun sounding restaurant and walked my way there. I had to keep a close eye on the map, since there are not really any street signs. So I found my way by counting the number of streets and matching there curves to the ones in the pictures. Thank God for a well drawn map. It worked great. After this I went to the beach area, but there wasn't really anything to do there. So feeling confident from my travels, I decided to find a masseuse, as I had been thinking about trying one here. The one I found in my guide book was pretty far off, but I had nothing better to do.

Venturing through the city gave me a much better perspective of real Indian life. Walking amongst the locals as they shopped, worked, and lived. The area near where the massage place was pretty nice. There were many Western clothing stores and good looking people walking around. The massage place was very high society. I felt like I was in Beverly Hills living it up. Amazingly an hour here was still cheaper than any I've had in the US.

After a pretty relaxing experience, I realized foolishly that I still had to walk back, so I was going to lose that melting feeling... but oh well that's the price of being a high society in India! I kid! :)

I headed back to the enclave area to go to mass that evening, which was for the most part just like mass in the US. I was a little amazed at the number of statues crammed into this small church. It made me wonder if some of that was spillover from many idols of the Hindu culture.

After that I headed back to the train and back to my apartment. Not too much accomplished today, but I was very happy with myself :)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Birds and Boats

Saturday I pulled myself out of bed around noon to meet Jude for lunch. Today her, Cheingkeih and I were going on a train adventure to try to catch the last migratory flamingos. The train is a notorious entity in India. Old rickety looking trains bring commuters from all over the suburbs to the city. During most weekdays these trains get so packed, they claim there is 16 people per square meter! People hang out by one hand from the open doorways, letting the air keep them cool. Some even are daring enough to ride on top, but this is even more foolish than it sounds. The trains are all electric, so the dangling wires claim more than their share of electrified Indians each year. We pay extra to sit in first class, where on a Saturday it is pleasantly empty enough for us to actually sit.

The surprisingly smooth ride takes us to Sewri, or the Mud Flats, I think it was called. As we venture from the train station, our path quickly changes into dirt streets in a sort of industrial yard. The people we pass look at us like ghosts. The impoverished houses look as though any strong gust of wind my blow them down. Children play in the streets and even swim in a muddy construction hole filled with water. Kids here must have the best immune systems on the planet! It also explains the shorter lifespans... We pass some guys playing cards. It must be there usually spot as it looks like an entire deck of cards has been thrown on the ground. I would bet money you could probably find 51 cards down there. Only takes 1 missing to make a bad deck :) The ground is the best trash can in India!

As we get to the mud flats, we are sorely disappointed that there is not a flamingo in sight. There is however some great looking ships docked at the small pier. We walk out on the pier to see if there is any photo opportunities to make our trek worth. A man on one of the boats motions for us to come aboard. We jump at the chance and walk up a pretty scary looking plank to the deck. Here we get some great views at turns diving into the water to "fish". Chingkeih has a great camera with a telephoto lens and he is able to get some great action shots.

After spending a couple hours there we head back to the train station and head home. Jude and I go back to the mall near where she lives to do a bit of shopping and grab a bite to eat. Then I go home and crash from exhaustion!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Crazy Night

Friday started out with the first "fulltight" outing. This was the newly formed group of party animals at R&H India. After a long day at work about 10 of us or so met up at Cabana, for some food and drinks. This was a cozy place with a dancefloor, but none of us ventured there... we all just started dancing in front of our table. The vibe was really good and I really started taking a liking to Indian club music. Everything the DJ played was a mashup of American and Hindi beats. Occasionally even some oldschool American classics. We had a blast dancing away and before we knew it the place was closing down. Mike, one of the animators, talked most of us into heading over to Polly's (short for Polly Ester's!) because he promised it was open till 5am! We were ready for on LATE night. After catching a cab, we get a call about half way there that there was an accident. Two guys were riding on a motor cycle and the guy on the back fell asleep. His shifting weight caused the bike to veer into a median and crash. Luckily they were ok except for some scrapes. The other group planning to meet us at Polly's went to help them out.

So then there was three. Aditya, Mike, and I were headed to meet Mike's girl Diya at Polly's. Dia was a funky sorta chick that you don't really meet many like in India. She was dancing with a way to drunk British fellow that the three of us decided to protect her from! We ordered a drink and 2 sips in, they shut the place down. Aditya and I are furious with Mike, as this cost us a pretty penny to get into... But Mike says not to worry he's got another place in mind.

So the 4 of us now get into another cab and go to a place whose name escapes me. You probably wouldn't find it from the street either. We show up at a pretty fancy looking "back door" where we pay a ridiculous (by Indian standards) fee to get in. There is only bouncers there and they lead us through a long winding kitchen. Yes I said kitchen, like mafia style :) At the end of the kitchen it starts to get dark and we continue on to a staircase where we can hear music. At the top of the stairs it is jam packed people. "This place will definitely not get shut down", Mike says. Aditya and I look at eachother warily, but I believe him!

We all have a blast here dancing until 5 or 6 am. Afterwards we catch another cab home. Poor Aditya has to travel an hour more by autorickshaw after Mike and I get dropped off. Later on we learn that his driver fell asleep at the wheel and flipped over! Luckily again he was only scratched.

What a drama-filled night.
I love India.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Delhi Exhaustion

So after a terrible night, I venture out on my last day. Starting off with the Red Fort in Old Delhi. Which is at this point, another old fort :) It still is interesting and all but I am getting exhausted.

Afterwards I go to Jama Masjid, which is the largest mosque in India. Frankly I am not very impressed. It looks just like the other mosques I have seen already.

Next I go to Purana Qila, also known as Old Fort. Now this place cracked me up! It should have been called Make-Out Fort. This for had a large hilly area with old ruins. Under every single tree or bush or hidden away corner was a couple! In India it is hard to date as we do in the US since the parents want to be some involved. Arranged marriages are still very prevalent. So young Indians go to places like this to be together, since the only people they are likely to encounter are tourists and other couples. They are safe from running into a family friend who may spread the word to the parents, who would instantly want to discuss marriage and meet the other family.

Next I go to India Gate, which is a war memorial to Indian soldiers.

Then to my last destination Humayun's Tomb. This is probably one of the best sites in Delhi, but at this point I am wiped out. I wander around for awhile, but eventually just stop and sit on a bench for a half hour or so. It was nice and peaceful since there were not many people there that day. I was glad that I did not take any more than 5 days for this trip!

Afterwards I stop for some dinner at an American style 50's cafe (hey I HAD to see what that would be like). It was pretty good. No beef for a burger, but I had a chicken burger and fries. Then the driver took me to the airport where I took my late night flight back to Mumbai.

What an adventure!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Leaving Agra and Delhi

The hotel I stayed at last night was really nice. Great food too. I wish I could have relaxed a bit in the pool, but India awaits!

First thing this morning I go to Agra Fort. This huge fort has some really amazing white marble buildings inside it too. Not surprising since they were build by Shah Jahan, similar to the Taj. There are some great views of the Taj from a distance here. I take a couple of good photos with a monkey and Taj in the background.

Afterwards I head out for Delhi. On the outskirts of the city the driver has one more place he says I should see, that I hadn't even planned on. Akbar's Tomb is in the center of a large open garden. There are deer grazing and peacocks and a bunch of monkeys! I even get to feed them here. So great! I could photo them for hours, but my memory cars are getting full. Bummer! The tomb itself is down a dark tunnel inside another very intricately designed red-sandstone and white marble structure.

Then we make the 5 hour drive to Delhi. On the south side of Delhi I stop at Qutb Minar. This is a 75m tall spire that the muslims built out of destroyed Hindu temples. It is very impressive in its detail and size. There is also the beginnings of a second tower that had the plan of being twice as big, but when the ruler planning its construction died, no one wanted to continue with the crazy idea! Here I have 2 separate groups of people want to take my photo! It was very strange but I learn later that they probably were just tourists like me. They come from the more rural places in India and have never seen a white person before! Here I am an alien :)

I stop at another tomb, Safdarjang's on the way into Delhi. Then I go to the hotel and drop off my things. The hotel here is terrible and I don't want to spend anymore time than necessary, so I leave right away to do some shopping. In the center of Delhi is a series of concentric circular roads with many shops. So I wander around here, even stumbling into and underground bazarre where everyone and there mother wanted me to go into their shop. Here I feel like a celebrity!

After having a nice dinner, buying some souvenirs and chatting with some locals, I head back to the hotel. Now this hotel is definitely the worst I have ever been in. When I first arrived there was not any sheets on the bed, just a folded up blanket. So I asked for sheets and the guy looked at me like he never had heard of such a request. I argued a bit with him, but he still insisted they did not have any sheets! So now when I came back there was a different guy there so I asked him for one and he said "sure no problem", so I figured everything would be all right. WRONG! So I am waiting for him to come back and I notice the sink in the bathroom is running, so I try to turn off the facet, but no luck. I start to jiggle the spout a little and it breaks off in my hand! Now water is gurgling up fro the broken spout... I point it out to the guy when he comes back and says they will fix it in the morning!! I am exhausted so I just concede and try to go to bed. I take the sheet he gave me and open it up... The most disgusting sheet you can imagine lies before me. Nasty spots all over it... I am so grossed out by this I just want to go home now... So to get through the night I get fully dressed and try to lay without moving... I eventually fall asleep... but it gets worse! About 3 in the morning the shower starts running very loudly. I stumble in there to figure out how to stop it. There are 2 handles for the shower, 2 for the sink and 2 under the sink. I twist and turn all 6 in every combination I can think of in my half asleep stuper and eventually it stops running. I stumble back to bed and manage to fall asleep for 15 minutes until it starts up again... This repeats itself a couple more times until I manage to get it to stop. Every time going in there I have to step on the nasty wet floor, since water is going everywhere by now, with my bare feet. I am so uncomfortable!

Monday, March 5, 2007


So this morning I got up early and left for Agra. It is only about 120km or so, but it takes nearly 5 hours due to the roads and traffic. About a half hour outside Agra I stop first at Fatehpur Sikri. This is a large mosque and palace. Very impressive architecture.

Then I decide to go straight to the Taj Mahal before it gets too dark. As I am walking up I get a faint view of the top of the dome and my anticipation starts to build. I meander through the crowds and go through the dark entrance gate seeing my first full view. WOW what an amazing sight! The Taj sits so beautifully at the end of a long pool of water. The only backdrop is the blue sky. I read somewhere it is referred to as a "Teardrop on the face of eternity". It is so breathtaking in its stunning white marble. The light is sunlight is hitting it perfectly, although it is supposedly beautiful at any time of day.

I end up taking upwards of 80 or so photos. I find it is just so photogenic you could snap photos of it all day. The Taj is absolutely huge too. People are like ants at the base of it walking about. What an amazing structure build solely as a tomb to Shah Jahan's beloved wife! it took 20,000 people 22 years to build. It reminded me of the pyramids of Egypt.

I stay to watch the sun almost set and watch the Taj slightly change colors, chatting with a woman from the UK, I think, here for a charity. I don't want to be leaving in pure dark, as I have to go quite a ways to get back to the driver. So I sadly pull myself away and venture back to reality. What an impression a single building can have on you!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Jaipur Day 2 - Holi

So today is Holi. Nothing in the entire city is open. I didn't even know what Holi was until a few days ago, so I never even considered it causing problems with my travel plans. I am pretty bummed because I will have to miss out on seeing a couple of things that I had planned too. I can't delay my trip here more than today because I have much more to go!

Yesterday I was really amazed by the forts just north of Jaipur, so drive up to go check them out, and sure enough they are all closed. I can wander around the outside walls a bit at Nahargarh, but not much. I'm totally bummed out now! At Amber fort I run into a German couple and chat a bit about everything being closed down. They are just doing some hiking around Amber so I decide that is not too bad of an idea. As I begin my climb up the curvy road to the fort I am a little nervous about what I might find. It is very desolate, especially since it is closed down for Holi. There are a couple of groups of young guys around all covered in paint, so I have to keep my distance so not to get more "colors" on me!

After walking up the paths further than anyone else around me, I begin to get a little nervous, but I am excited to continue too. I feel like a kid again, exploring the hills around home. I come across what looks like the last part of the road at the top of Amber. Here there are some buildings that look like fairly new construction. There is a guy standing under a porch like awning by himself. As I approach he asks me if I am alone, I tell him yes. And he asks if I would like some company... This is a strange request and it makes me more than a bit worried, but I am here for adventure so I tell him sure. We take the path further along, which winds its way up to Jaigarh fort. I am very cautious as we walk along, but he is very curious so the unease soon settles into good conversation. His name is Ajay and he works for a stock broker and he has come home for Holi. He likes the peace of these old forts. It is very quiet and a big change from the crowded Indian cities. We hike around for a couple of hours, going all the way to the top. Afterwards we go our separate ways and I return to my anxiously waiting driver, as I took much longer than he was expecting! Even though I missed out on going into the forts, this was a great day!

So now exhausted I go back to Jaipur and try to get some food, but all that is open is McDonald's! So I end up eating 2 value meals, since they are smaller and only cost about $2-3 US. There are several other tourists here, many covered in colors.

Ruchi suggested a place called Chowki Dhani to go to that evening. It is a mock village sorta place with camel and elephant rides and street performers. Dinner is also included. There is lots to wander around and see here, so I have a goof time. As I am waiting to ride a camel I meet a couple other young people who want me to take the photo of them. I do and ask them to take one for me too. We chat a bit, and later on when it is dinner time, we happen to meet up and eat together. I also end up chatting with the couple on the other side of me. He is an aromatherapy salesman or something. Indian people are so friendly! I love it!

Saturday, March 3, 2007


So this morning I flew to Jaipur to begin my 5 day trip to the Golden Triangle (Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi). This is one of the prime tourist destinations in India, at least for the beginners like me :)

My first stop is Jaipur. The old part of the city is called the pink city because it is, well, pink. In 1876 the entire city was painted pink, a color associated with hospitality, to welcome the Prince of Wales. The first thing I notice is how different this city is from Mumbai. The city has a much older feel to it, and you can tell how rich and stately it must have been at one time. There are animals everywhere. Cows sitting in the street. Camels, elephants, ox, monkeys. It is awesome! Everything happening in a blur of people, color, and my wonder.

I just so happened to be in Jaipur for Holi. Which I just found out yesterday is one of the biggest holidays of India. It is the festival of color. All throughout the city there were vendors selling colored powders that they throw on each other or mix with water and splash on each other. Tomorrow is the holiday, but people are already starting today. There are a couple people covered head to foot in color. I see a couple of tourists joining in on the fun too. I am not so anxious.

I checked into my hotel and then went to check out the city palace. Here there are some art collections, weapon collections, and some cool buildings. Wandering around was the best though. Walking around the winding paths of the palace I passed people pushing carts, a bull just walking on his own going wherever it wants, people riding an elephant down the street, cars driving through archways barely big enough, and more monkeys just climbing around on buildings. My eyes were wide as saucers. Just taking it all in. I wanted to record it all. I took tons of photos but it just isn't the same.

Afterwards since everything was closed for the day, I had the driver just cruise me around a bit. We were driving along a road north out of the city when we stumbled on a bunch of elephants. They were spaced far apart. One or 2 or 3 in a group. I pulled over and started taking some pictures so they stopped and I got to touch them and take photos with them. It was great!

On the way back to the hotel, the sun was starting to get low, so the festivities for Holi eve were getting under way. We passed several bonfires getting ready to be lit. Then right when we were in the center of the city chaos started breaking out. I guy with a torch on fire ran by our car right across the street weaving through cars. People from all over started chasing him. People started coming out the alley ways all chasing him with their own torches. All trying to light there's on his. It was a strange sight with sticks flying in a chaotic almost fight to get torches lit. There was people standing on the backs of motorcycles holding torches riding around amongst the chaos too. All this happening right in the middle of the street packed with cars.

I tried to stop and watch near a bonfire at one point but I immediately started to get swarmed by young curious kids. Me being by myself made me very approachable I guess. Before I knew it I had a crowd of 20 or so kids around me and more approaching. All looked friendly enough, but who knows. I looked over at the driver and he gave me a look like "lets go", so I took that advice and got out of there as the kids tried to follow.

As we were almost back to the hotel, we saw another bonfire, so I stopped and went over to it. Here I was approached shortly by a couple of young 20ish guys. One of which spoke great English, so I ended up talking quite a bit with him. They had me try some milk like drink that had some alcohol in it. It tasted good, but I was afraid to drink more than a sip since I did not know if it would make me sick. I was mainly afraid of it being unpasteurized milk, which is very common in India.

Afterwards the driver dropped me off at the hotel, where I went up to the roof and watched a small puppet show. Pretty random, but it was entertaining. There was only me and a couple of ladies and a little girl watching. So they put a turban like hat on my head and handed me a puppet. So I tried my hand at it with many laughs from the women.

It was a awesome day. I can do this traveling alone bit!