Sunday, 26 February 2012

Udaipur

Udaipur is a really nice little town. It's relatively clean with the usual amount of temples and holy cows. I arrived at 5am, 3 hotels that I checked were fully booked, and I ended up in a nice hotel in the center with a really good room and price, the only problem was that it wasn't advertised anywhere, and so nobody came there, and I was pretty much alone. And it's usually in the hotels where you meet people to hang out with. I wasn't totally bored, I got myself busy with a bunch of activities, like walked all around the city, went into the city palace which was the most beautiful palace I've ever seen. It's so nice in here that usually they ask for a ticket at the entrance to the building, or at some gate, and you could walk pretty far inside for free before reaching that gate.
I took a boat ride in the lake, and did an ayurvedic massage. This time it was a guy. I wanted a male masseuse in Pushkar, where I also did a massage, but they told me it’s a professional place, a male masseuse for guys and female for girls. Here it wasn’t a problem. It was mostly rubbing, not really a work on muscles, but it was relaxing :) He gave me a head massage too with oil and I really needed to take a shower afterwards. For 2 days there was no hot water in the guest house, and I didn’t take a shower, this day I gave up on the idea of a hot shower, but a new problem arose … there was no water at all! The last 2 days, they just told me, wait 5 minutes, 10, minutes, 20 minutes, and of course nothing would happen. But I know, this is India, if you want anything done, you have to be present and supervise the situation until desired result. So after I heard to wait 20 minutes, I said that I’m not moving anywhere until I have water. I went with them to check the tank which turned out to be empty, then to find a water machine, fill up the tank, turn the heater on, took them into my room to see if there is water or no water. Finally I was able to shower :) It’s a little bit annoying because if you ask for something to be done, and they say it will be done, 90% chance it won’t be :S
I also took a cooking class which was amazing. It was 4 hours for $10 (with all ingredients included), we were 3 people and we must have made at least 10 different dishes. We were so full! We all came to the class very hungry, but couldn't finish even a third of what we made. The woman was very interesting. She told us a little bit about her caste. Her husband died, and she was not allowed to go out of the house for a whole year. For the first 45 days she was supposed to sit in the corner while all the women of the village came and cried from 9-5, and only after 5 she could get up and eat something. She's also not allowed to get remarried, so long story short, after a year of not working, and no husband to support her, she run out of money. Her caste is not allowed to work in dirty jobs, but that's all she knew how to do, and she worked doing laundry illegally. Somehow she came up with an idea to do cooking classes, and since then they got famous, and now she has more money than she knows what to do with. Her English is really funny (pretty much all Indian English). They just use order form. You come; You sit; You open fridge, you see, you use; You bucket, hand wash :)  There were mice running around the kitchen, but we didn't mind, they were cute and little, besides mice are holy, so you're not supposed to kill them. They are the transportation of Ganesh (a god, who is btw an elephant). The story of Ganesh is: there was a god who wanted a son, somehow she created one. She went into bath and told him to watch the door so that nobody will come in. Meanwhile Shiva (one of the main gods) came, and wanted to go into the bath. The son didn't allow for it. He didn't know who Shiva is, and Shiva didn't know who that boy is, so he chopped off his head. When the wife came out of the shower, she started to cry that Shiva killed her son. Shiva ordered everybody to go into the forest and to bring the head of the first animal they see. They found a sleeping elephant, chopped his head off. Shiva took the head and attached it to the boy’s body, and now you have a human figure with an elephant head. Very cute :) It's one of the favorite gods in India. He's the god of happiness and good luck. Usually when somebody is getting married, a picture of Ganesh along with the date is painted outside the house near the entrance. My question is though, if Shiva is so strong and put dead elephant's head on the dead body of the boy, why couldn't he attach the original head?? And while I'm on the subject, I asked around why the cow is holy, and was given answers because it's the mode of transportation of Shiva and also because it's like a mother, giving milk, yogurt, cheese.
There is a temple somewhere, where there are 3000 holy rats/mice are worshiped :) I didn't go there :)
Here is a recipe of chai. I drink it every day, it's really really good :)
Serving 1 glass (250 ml)
- 1 glass of milk
- 1/4 glass of water
- 2 heaped tablespoons of sugar (ok girls, you could put not heaped :) )
- 1 tablespoon of loose leaf black tea - such as Darjeeling. Important - loose tea, not tea bag !!!
- 2 pieces of cardamom
- 4 black peppercorns
- fingernail of ginger. I personally like more ginger
- optional ... add dry basil and nutmeg

Grind all the spices together, until completely crashed.
Put all the ingredients into a saucepan. Bring to boil, and simmer for 4 minutes. The chai should start to turn a coffee brown color. (The longer you boil it, the stronger it will be. I personally like it stronger). Pour the tea into a glass through a strainer.

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- In Udaipur most of the restaurants located on the top floor of the buildings, and with 4-5 stories to walk up every time you want to check out the view or the menu, it's quite a work out! Most of the hallways and doorways are very narrow and low, I think it's meant for little and short Indians :)
- I needed to do laundry. I asked if the washing is done by a washing machine, and was reassured that it definitely was! Yeah, right. I think my clothes were cleaner before I gave them for a wash! Not only they were still dirty, but they smelled like they lied in a garbage tank for a day, they also had dirty lines from where they were hung! BUT!!! They were nicely folded! :))
- Most people don't understand connected sentences: hot water = ok; no electricity = ok. Is there hot water when there is no electricity = deer in headlights. she goes to mumbai = ??? she go mumbai = ok! :)
- I've seen a funny commercial on tv. A proper family (parents and 2 kids) are getting into the car, the radio starts playing a catchy song "I wanna fu*&%%&" .... naaahhhh ... better watch it for yourself :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXwpvGjPDJ0
- James Bond movie – Octopussy was shot in Udaipur. It was more of a comedy than an action movie though :) And it plays every night at almost every restaurant in the city.
- I saw new way of counting! You use every bend of your finger as 1 (and there are 3 bends in each finger), so now in each hand you can count till 15, and not till 5! :)
- Went to a tourist agency to ask about horseback riding. The agent as always was half listening to me, half on the phone, half on two phones. Then for sure he started to have some personal calls, while I'm sitting there. Finally I got up to go, he put his phone down. I said what kind of customer service is this, are you talking on the phone or with me. He then hung up his 2 phones, and said that only with me. I said that I'm no longer interested in the tour, and he offered me a private tour on his bike for free! No thanks! ... It's so weird that they really fight for tourist money, so much hassling I didn't see in my life, yet when they get tourists in their shop, they completely ignore them!!
- I'm thinking about the things that Indians do ... ALL THE TIME ... and why it’s rude. For example when they burp and spit and eat with open mouth? Who decided that it's rude. After all, sometimes when I'm eating by myself when nobody can hear me, I can eat with my mouth open, or if we eat pomegranate/mandarin, we also spit out the seeds, or when we clean our noses, it makes sound too, or is it ok because it's a necessity? But then what about burping? Children burp, so it's a necessity too? Other things however I'm completely agreeing with, for example to eat with your hands. I wouldn't do it somewhere where I can't wash my hands, but in all restaurants there are wash basins, and when you eat with your hands, you can feel the food more, so you're adding another sense into your eating, which enriches the experience. We eat chicken fingers with our hands, why not all the food? Or also when using the washroom. You know that I haven't seen any toilet paper in any of the washrooms in here. Tourists always buy toilet paper roll and carrying it with them everywhere :) The campaign is starting in North America about the use of bidets. If you get your fingers dirty, you don't just wipe it off and think it's clean, you wash it with soap and water. So why not do it down there? The only problem is that there is no soap ! So ok, they would wash it, but then they serve the food with these hands, and there are no utensils! Everything is handled with hands!
- This is a wedding season, and I was invited to yet another wedding of the guesthouse owner's brother. This was the 7th (and the last) day of the wedding, which is the reception day. The couple sits on the stage by themselves. Everybody comes to congratulate them and take a picture, then eat and go home. There was a band playing, but nobody is allowed to dance (another respect issue). There was absolutely no affection between the couple, they never touched each other, or barely spoke to each other ... again, something you don't do in public. And the wife didn't look happy at all, rather her eyes were red, and it almost seem that she's gonna cry at any moment.
The owner of the guest house said that Indian people don't usually travel because they pay for this expensive wedding. The guests don't give money, only presents, and that's not even all of them. The couple has to take a loan and then repay all life! And this was a love marriage, imagine arranged marriage, where you don't even like your chosen partner, and you have to pay all your life for that!
Got another 15 hour night bus to Mumbai. I had no idea where to go. Had to wait at some agency, they didn't speak any English, but reassured me that the bus will come. Then somebody came on the bike to take me to the bus, took my ticket, gave me another ticket. But it was the correct bus ( I still have no idea how things work in here! ). It just stopped once, and then didn't make any more stops, and I desperately needed to go to the washroom. I didn't do very smart thing, because in Udaipur, I really wanted to try pomegranate tea (which wasn't good), then I was treated to chai in the guest house, then their friend's restaurant, then at the agency, and I needed to go badly!!! I asked the driver to stop, but there are no stops on the way, but they told me to wait a little bit because in some time there is a forest and I could go there. This "forest" turned out to be some half chewed up bush :) But they were very accommodating, gave me shoes, and turned off all the lights in the bus :) Good thing that I went because I talked to them for a little bit, and turns out that the bus goes 45 kms from where I need to be! Mumbai is big, 16 million people, and 45 kms was still in the city! But they made a few phone calls, woke me up in the middle of the night, and transferred me to another bus :)

pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Udaipur#

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Jaiselmer

I had a ticket to Jodhpur, and for a few days that I've been to Pushkar, I didn't feel like going there anymore, so before leaving, I went and bought a ticket to Jaiselmer with a connection in Jodhpur.
When we arrived at the train station, our train was 2 hours delayed. I was actually quite happy about it, because I had a 4.5 hour connection to the next train, and I didn't want to wait for it alone at night. So now 4.5 hours were cut to 2.5. I was with a Portuguese couple and while eating at the train station restaurant we met 2 more girls from Spain. The restaurant was amazing. It was only filled with locals, and I've never seen prices that low before. For ex. pita bread was 2 cents, rice was 10 cents. So you could have a whole meal, and have leftovers shared with a dog/cow (your choice) for 50 cents. All locals tried talking to us. Sitting at our table, having for once a normal conversation and not something like: buy this shirt it would look beautiful on you. We went to walk around for a bit with the Portuguese couple, had some beer and peanuts. The locals could not understand how it is that a woman drinks a beer, and what am I doing with the couple? Also a girl chose a bracelet, and her bf paid for her. Again a misunderstanding, if he pays, he should choose a bracelet for her! The peanuts were roasted on a dried cow shit and served/weighed by the hand (very normal occurrence), I chose shelled peanuts for this reason :)
I sat beside a young couple. He was from Mumbai and she was Russian. The whole trip he was putting her down all the time, how she doesn't know how to take pictures, all the pictures she took are crap, and look at how cool his turned out to be. She has no idea what she's talking about; he got the food so fast because he's so smart. Btw, on his cell phone, the background picture was an image of a superman. I had goose bumps listening to him, and barely held my tongue not to call him an idiot. I know it's not really my business, also I can't really blame him for acting this way ... after all, she lets him to. He wouldn't have had survived 10 minutes with me before I would've told him to shut up.
The train got delayed by another hour due to construction, and then for 2 more hours for unknown reasons. Nobody knew what's going on, but nobody minded. Kids were running around the train, adults got carried in deep conversations, and we weren't worried too much anymore because we knew that we missed the next train. It's always a good idea, and I guess the only idea, to get acquainted with all the locals around you because they would know where to get off, and just in case would wake you up. There are no station announcements, and a small sign at a random location on the station itself which is invisible in the dark anyway, and if you somehow saw it when the train would reach the station, it would already be too late, cause at times it would only stop for a few seconds on a platform. So pretty much you have to be ready with all the luggage and stand near the open doors for a few minutes before it reaches the station.
The Portuguese couple stayed in Jodhpur, while the Spanish girls and myself tried to figure out what to do with the train. It was 12:30am, and the station was dead except the waiting hall that was filled with people to its maximum capacity waiting for the morning train. It was a scene out of some natural disaster movie when people 1000s of people are crumbled into a small space waiting to be rescued. We were sent from window to window, to station master to some other window to refund the tickets. We were told that we can only be granted 50% of the ticket price because our tickets from Ajmer to Jodhpur and Jodhpur to Jaiselmer are separate, and they can't prove that we weren't just lazy, stayed in our hotel for too long and missed the train. We tried arguing, but achieved no result. I got a surprise though. My ticket was a waiting list one, I checked the confirmation list, and it wasn't confirmed (read: invalid ticket). And I was given back 90% of the cost ( I didn't ask why :) ), meanwhile the girls had legit tickets, and only got 50% of the price ... they weren't too happy with that :) Everybody, and I mean everybody was staring at us ... as usual. But this time it was heavy staring. We decided to play a game and stare back at them with the same intensity, with our eyes popped out (just like theirs). We would count 1, 2, 3 and 3 of us would just turn and stare back. It worked every time, and was super fun :) At least we had to something to entertain ourselves until the morning :) In the morning we got a general sitting ticket (the cheapest class there is), because it's the only class of ticket sold right before the scheduled train time. If you don't want to sit in general class, you can walk around the whole train, find any seat available, and when the ticket checker would come by, you would just pay him the difference. We found 3 sleeper beds, and completely crashed. Nobody woke us up until our destination, so we didn't have to pay anything extra :) When we woke up, we started talking to a few modern Indian guys who were coming to Jaiselmer from Delhi to see the Mr. Desert festival. I found out that locals are actually very nice, helpful, accommodating unless you want to do any kind of business with them :) There was one guy sitting to our right and was constantly looking at us, seemingly checking every spot of our bodies from toes to head. I asked him if he knows English, he said yes with a very happy tone because I spoke with him. I was not in a very happy mood or delighted to talk to him due to his behavior and asked him "why are you looking at us? Do we have 3 eyes, two noses, what's going on?" He started making excuses that there is nowhere else to look, and he's just sitting this way, but after some noisy expressions from the 4 Indian guys accompanied by hand gestured, he completely turned 180 degrees from us :) They said that everywhere in the world is rude to stare except in India.
At the train station we felt like celebrities, everybody with hotel signs trying to get us to their hotel. There are camel safaris that are very popular in this place, so everybody is fighting to get the tourists to go from their agency. We already had the hotel booked, and there was another friend of the Spanish girls who was already waiting for us there. One guy approached us and said, you're going to my hotel, you are 3 girls and you called me yesterday. I had no idea where we were going, and it sounded suspicious to me, I mean, he can see that we are 3 girls, doesn't take a rocket scientist to count until 3 :) When we approached the car, surprise, surprise, it was from a different hotel! Very very sneaky :)) Finally our driver arrived, and after a cold shower and lunch we met a guy on the street who does couch surfing (a world wide network of free home accommodations), although in his case it wasn't at his home, but rather in his hotel. He took us there and showed us around, gave us chai, then showed us to a beautiful restaurant for dinner overlooking the whole city right on the edge of the fort. Oh, btw, this city - Jaiselmer, had the largest fort in all India, and it's a live in fort, with apartments/restaurants/hotels all inside, with a living population of 5000 people. It's incredibly beautiful inside as well as outside. It seems very surreal how it rises up in the middle of the desert, with 100s of kilometers of emptiness all around. This city is 100 kms from Pakistan, earlier it was used as a silk route, but due to it being in the middle of the desert, and having problems with water shortage, it lost its significance. Later it was used as a strategic base for US army, and there were nuclear bomb tests around. Some names of places still remind of the military presence, such as "air force circuit".
The whole day I was speaking Spanish with the girls, and was pleasantly surprised that I haven't forgotten it. After very interesting conversations about religion, history and culture, we all decided to come to his place the next day. Although his focus completely changed towards me and his motives to provide free accommodations in order to learn other cultures, seemed very shady. His name is Lucky, he's 27 years old, he was born in a village and was a sheppard all his life, then he decided to go into tourism. His first job paid him $12/month, but from it he learned almost perfect English/Spanish/Italian/French and German. He told me a trick that sellers use to generate a starting price for a product by asking "innocent" questions such as: Which country are you from, which hotel are you staying at, how long is your trip = price! The shorter the trip, the higher the price. I asked him for ex, if somebody tells me 200, should I bring it down 100 right away? He's like "No, you should say 20"!! OMG!!!
 He said he was tired of lies that his boss used to make him say, and especially after an occurrence with 2 girls who booked a safari trip for $800 instead of normal $30, and left back to their home 5 months earlier in tears, he decided to open his own hotel with rooms for couch surfing to help tourists out. It sounded nice and rosy ... but Lucky is a pathological liar who lies after every 2nd word, while believing and acting like it's nothing but 100% truth.
In the morning we went to a Mr.Desert festival which was actually quite boring. There were competitions who's gonna tie a turban the fastest played between locals and foreigners, miss beauty, mr. desert. But nobody was clapping and we had no idea who won!?! This festival is not a real one, it's made up only for the reason to bring tourists into the town. I was very excited to be a part of the festival, but after 1 hour, I didn't come back, not this day, not the next. The woman who was translating to English was very funny, every sentence was some form of philosophical advice like "true happiness lies in participation, not in winning" or "only courage provides success" etc, etc ... or was saying funny things like "see these exotic tourists as they clumsily wrap the turban"; "clap your big hands...".
Miss beauty and Mr. Desert costumes are quite extravagant, but these are not just costumes for a festival, people actually still dress up like that for important events such as weddings.
Lucky took me to a beautiful cemetery where the royal family is buried. They had very cruel tradition that once a king died, all his wives had to die as well by jumping into the fire to be burnt alive. All baby girls were suffocated, and the male babies were to become next kings. There is a carving of the kings and all wives beside each grave. Note that on one of the graves, 2 kings shared 1 wife!
Next Lucky took me to his village, and introduced me to all his family. Nobody spoke any English, but they were very hospitable, asking me to take their pictures, teaching me different recipes, & wanted to find out everything about me through his translations. Everybody was offering me drinks, more and more drinks, and made the cocktails pretty strong, about half rum half coke, and then waiting for me to finish all the glass so they could pour more. After one glass I already started walking sideways and politely declined :) Then they made yummy lamb stew, which was served with chapatti (kind of a pita). Chapattis are usually made on fire, and they put dry cow shit to make the fire. I didn't mind it so much when the dough was places on an iron skillet, but then it was taken out, and put directly into ashes. I wish somebody would've taken a picture of my face when it was served to me! I took a deep breath and tried it. It was actually really really good !! I can't describe the flavour, but it was very unique, and had an excellent taste. I wasn't too surprised about their cooking methods in here, because I saw it in Africa, there they take the actual thing and add it to their stews, not only use it as a heating source. They made the lamb mildly spicy especially for me, but when I started to sniff and cough and heavily breath, they all were running around and bringing me water, pepsi, sweet stuff to delude the spiciness :)
At that point he started to get closer and closer, saying that he never brings anybody to his village, and that he loves me and wants to marry me! Um ... thanks but no thanks! I'm very suspicious towards guys in the beginning and notice every move and memorize every word that they say. And if there is one conflict with their stories, or I sense that they bullshit or don't keep their word, that's it, game over! He said that he wants to help me with my spirituality, and clean my chakras. I agreed. After transferring energy through my palms, elbows, shoulders, it started going down and down. What’s more, the throat chakra can't be touched with hands but the energy has to be transferred with a breath. I got up, and told him to drive me back. He told me that I don't understand spirituality, and that body means nothing, it's all in the mind, and that I'm over exaggerating. It might be true because a lot of the gods and holy figures are naked, but I don't care, unless I have a female guru, my pants stay on!!
I'm not sure if there is actually a big difference between Indians/Africans/South Americans and Europeans/American guys. I think the American guys just take their time and make their motives less obvious, but at the end, it all leads to the same thing. Indians just need a few hours to tell someone that they love them or try and do something :)
Next day I was writing my blog, and as always it takes some time. He was all around me walking back and forth waiting until I'll be done. I said that I'm sorry, but it takes quite a lot of time, and he told me not to worry, he could wait for me all his life! 4 hours of waiting later he took me around the city tour and showed me the lake. There is an interesting story about the lake. There was a famous prostitute who wanted to build a gate, the king refused permission on the grounds that he would have to pass under it to go down to the lake, which would be beneath his dignity. She got smart and overnight built a small temple on the top of the gate, and according to Hindi tradition, you're not allowed to destroy temples, and so the gate survived. Although he built two smaller gates on the sides, so he could walk through them instead.
After the "tour", Lucky was telling me that he never does it to anybody, usually he charges money to be a guide, but it's only me, and of course he can't blame me for not feeling anything, but he'll try his hardest to win my heart, and was going on and on how lucky I am to be given this free tour. I told him to go take a hike, all the places he showed me are in the guidebook with a detailed map and all the history behind it as well, so I could've done this "tour" easily by myself and told him not to sweat it.
Meanwhile in the hotel all the stuff began to love me, because I said please and thank you every time, and when at a snap of a finger they had to give up the computer, or go to make chai/dinner for everybody, I told them to take a break and finish what they're doing first. So they all started calling me boss, and wished that I was one :) They all yell at each other. I stared asking why do they yell, and they said, he doesn't do anything, he's so lazy, I tell him to clean the bathroom and he tells me to do it. So they work and almost live together, and once something goes not the way they want it to go, they start yelling. I don't get it ... can't they think of any other way to make people comply?
Lucky was gathering people in the hotel to go to the desert to do camel safari, then see the festival, and then sleep in the dunes. I was very excited about that. It was the main reason why I came to Jaiselmer was to do overnight camel safari. In total, there were 10 people which he somehow stuck in 1 jeep. I was on the back of his bike. He asked me not to tell anybody that the money they paid is only for the transportation and doesn't include anything else. I got suspicious by that point! On the way we stopped by an abandoned village. The legend has it that there was a young girl living there, and some important middle age man wanted to marry her. All the village was against it, and all of 8000 people abandoned their homes over night and moved to an unknown location.
When we arrived at the festival, everybody got out of the jeep and spread out. I was thinking how are they gonna get back together again?? And to my surprise ... well, not really a surprise, nobody else is staying overnight just me and Lucky, and he organized a camel tour and then the two of us will spend the night in the dunes. HA! What an excellent idea! Didn't he get the point yet that I'm not interested and never was?? I just said no, that I want to go back to the city with everybody else. He said that it's my decision and he's not forcing anything. Then he said that I'll take a 2 hour camel ride (another lie, because it was already too late, and I'll return in the dark, and it's not how it works). So, 2 hour camel ride ended up with an overinflated 5 minute ride to the festival itself, which I was not paying for !! Festival as usual wasn't interesting, pretty much the same performances as in the city, except that it was very cold and everybody wanted to get back. How do you get everybody back when you don't know where the jeep is, and where all 10 people are located? That Lucky dealt with for an hour while he dropped me off some resort that had another performance and apparently a dinner. It was some gipsy/Indian music with 2 girls dancing around the fire. I really didn't want to be there, and wanted to go back. I was hungry and I was freezing, and I didn't want to be near Lucky in a kilometer radius. There I met a woman who was sitting with 3 blankets, quickly quickly made friends with her, and cuddled up to her. I asked her how they're going back, and they have a car! I asked if I could take a ride in their car, and she said of course no problem. Meanwhile her guy (also Indian) and Lucky (somehow they knew each other) were giving us rum and coke to warm up. All the guests then danced around the fire, then they went inside for the dinner and I was ready to go, when Lucky informed me that he now paid for the hut that costs $120/night (super crazy price for India!). Geeeeeez ... not again ! I said that I think I made it clear that I want to go back. Then he started to act up, and drink rum shots saying that I could go with the couple, and he doesn't care for his life, if he's gonna die then it's what god planned for him. I had to grab the drink from his and spill it out, cause I don't want any of that being my responsibility, and what a good choice was that, because when we got up and the couple couldn't walk straight and couldn't find their driver (maybe a made up driver), I had no choice but to go back with Lucky on his bike, because it was already late and there were no other cars in the middle of this desert. We argued about half an hour who's gonna drive back. There was a little problem though that I don't know how to drive a manual bike, so the only way it would work was for me to drive and for him to change the gears. We agreed that he'll drive for a minute, I'll see his condition and if anything we'll switch. Obviously he didn't stop after a minute, and we drove 40kms back to the city. It was sooooo cold !!! When we got back we continued arguing. He wanted to talk to me, and I didn't understand what was there to talk about. I told him that he’s a liar and a bullshitter, about the spirituality, then everybody staying at the desert, then a long camel ride, then sleeping in the dunes, suddenly sleeping in the hut. He was barely crying, or at least pretending to. I said that we have nothing to talk about, I am not interested in him, I'm leaving to Udaipur and will never see him again, I'm going to sleep, and this conversation is over! He tried to stop me and talk more. I don't get it. What goes on his mind???? I was a little bit uncomfortable because I was staying at his place free with all the amenities, and meanwhile not talking to him, but oh well. I couldn't warm up for the whole night, I was lying there completely frozen under a pile of blankets, and all of my skin was ice cold. I only warmed up next day around 12pm when it was finally hot outside.
I was leaving the next day and still had a chance to do a proper camel safari, but after that incident, I didn't have any more energy or interest in these camels, dunes, sleeping under the stars idea.
While I was walking in the city, I bumped into him and he wanted to accompany me in my tour, I said no, I'm walking on my own, and see you later! Then I met 3 Israeli girls from the hotel, we started talking, and ended up in a restaurant. They started talking Hebrew and then one of them said "What is she doing with us?". I didn't know whether to tell them anything or not, but decided to ignore the comment, finished looking at the menu as though there's nothing wrong, then said that sorry, I forgot something back in the hotel, and left the restaurant.
In the city they have funny ways of trying to bring customers to the stores, they say things like "Can I help you spend your money in my store", or "shopping is good for health".
In the evening 2 girls and myself were invited to go to a wedding. Of course we agreed, how can we miss a traditional wedding? The wedding usually lasts for 4 days in India, but optionally can last much much longer. This was an arranged marriage. In this case the groom didn't even see the bride yet. This day involved him getting on a while horse with all the guests parading around the streets of the city. What was interesting about this event is that first of all everybody was on opium. It's an Indian tradition that you should have respect for elders (including the parents), and you can't drink in front of them. Well, how can you not drink and stay happy in the wedding? Take opium! There is a generator in the back and usually small boys carry lamps that are connected to this generator on both sides, and people are walking in between these lights with dance music blasting at the front. All men are walking in the front and dancing, all women are walking in the back and not dancing. The horse with the groom is at the back and nobody is paying attention to him! The guys would at times stop, dance and start waving money in the air, and then throwing it up. This money is supposed to go for the wedding, but there were about 10 pretty aggressive kids monitoring this activity and once the money was thrown, they would fight on the ground to collect it. I don't think they're part of the guests and quite regularly they were kicked and beaten by the family members, of course they didn't leave. It's the easiest way to make tons of money in a short period of time, of course you would end up with a few bruises, but I think it's worth it. So when there is a wedding, pretty much the whole town doesn't sleep with this parade of hundreds of people through the tiny streets. We were warned a few times not to accept any invitations for dances, because if we dance with the guys, it means we're interested, and they have the right to follow us all night long and expect something at the end. So we were dancing on our own, and just saying no no no no to every attempt. One guy while dancing grabbed my hand so hard that for sure I though it's gonna bruise, I pulled it out of his grip, but seriously, where is the respect? You don't ask, you just grab? And with such a force?? Another guy was talking to one of the girls while I was walking behind her, she kept shaking her head in a "no" action, but he didn't give up, continued talking and talking, and then put his hand around her. I knocked on his shoulder and told him to leave her alone, he ignored my comment and continued talking with her, at which point I shoved him to the side. He started arguing with me that he's the brother of the groom and that I'm at his wedding and how can I act this way, and people in India do not push (yeah right!), and that I caused him embarrassment. I said that I'm sorry if I caused him embarrassment in front of his family, but when a girl is saying no for the longest time, leave her alone! Some other guys were like our shadow, always walking near us. We'd walk, they'd walk, we'd stop, they'd stop. Then they figured out that touching our shoulders with both hands is not considered to be a sexual sign, so they would oops and bump into us and hold our shoulders. They did it so many times that it was way too obvious, but we had other, worse maniacs to worry about. Like when it would be too crowded, they would use the situation and touch our butts. Grrrr !!! Thank god this expedition was over in about 2 hours, and we all ended up in a huge hall full of food. Food was very good, but it was so dirty, there were no chairs, and we had to sit on the floor with all this garbage around. Not very pleasant.
Next day I took a 15 hour overnight bus to Udaipur. Couldn't sleep for a moment. It was up/down/left/right. I had a sleeper thank god, so at least I could lie down, but I was thrown to the ceiling, smashed against a window, banged with my head on the back wall. You never know when it would stop, for how long, when/where to go to the washroom, no stop announcements, nothing! Fun, fun, fun!

pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Jaiselmer

Monday, 13 February 2012

Pushkar


For anybody who's wondering how much travelling costs, it's been 8 days now, and I just run out of $200 that I took out in the airport in Delhi.
On my way to the train to go to Pushkar, I bought some bananas and they were hanging in a plastic bag. I had my suitcase, day pack, a walking bag and bananas, so when the monkey decided that it wants some too, I didn't have too many options to defend myself. It started making sounds and following me with small jumps to get closer. Thank god there were some Indian boys around and they chased it away. Lesson learned: Do not carry bananas in plain view without an opportunity to run away!
India is getting cleaner and cleaner. Until now, I've seen nothing but garbage, especially around train stations. But during the ride to Pushkar (which is in a desert), there suddenly started to appear green, organized fields, with sprinkles, divided into neat squares. Must be somebody from another country who lives there and organized the whole system :)
When I arrived to Pushkar, still with a headache from Jaipur, I settled for the most expensive room in the guest house, with big bathroom, nice double bed, fan and an LCD TV with English channels, all that for $7/night. I didn't have any energy to bargain, ask for cheaper rooms or look anywhere else. I just went into it, crashed for 4 hours, and in total after 16 hours of sleep, I think my headache was gone. I noticed that in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur I couldn't breathe at all. I breathed very shallowly, and if I took a deep breath, I felt my lungs hurting. There are no autorickshaws allowed in Pushkar, so I started to breath normally ... finally.
Pushkar is a nice small town of 15,000 people. It's purely vegetarian, even eggs are not allowed, neither is the alcohol.(Lonely Planet) "It's a prominent HIndu pilgrimage town and devout Hindus should visit at least once in their lifetime. The town curls around a holy lake, said to have appeared when Brahma dropped a lotus flower. With 52 bathing ghats (baths) and 400 milky blue temples, the town literally hums with regular prayers generating an episodic soundtrack of chanting, drums and gongs, and devotional songs." Except the main bazaar street where everybody tries to sell you everything, the town does have a very relaxing and religious spirit to it. Around the lake, you see while/blue houses/temples with huge yellow signs that say "strictly no photography, no smoking, no shoes, no speaking loud". Everywhere you look there are people taking baths during sunset, there are various rituals performed with candles flowing around in circles accompanied by chanting. People on the street try to give you flowers as a present. Of course you should never accept anything that's free, because if you do, they'll convince you to drop the flower into the holy water which would then turn into some sort of ritual and soon enough you're asked for donations to the temples to upkeep this holy place.
While I was sitting on the stairs of the lake, I was approached by kids who start with usual questions, "where are you from? What's your name? Can I have some money?", these ones went even further. "Do you have parents? We don't have our parents, our mother died, we're all alone. Can you buy us some shoes? (they had mismatching blue and black shoes) How about some food?". Of course it's hard not to help them out. But it's a rule of thumb; do not give anything to begging children. They should be in school. If you give them money, it would encourage them not to go to school, but to hassle tourists, giving us less peace, and compromising their education. So in short you don't do anybody any favours.
In the guesthouse met a few people, including 2 hippies from Australia. They were so funny, they looked, talked and had the same body language, with tunnel vision and a memory of a gold fish it was a fun experience, but only for an hour. After that I got another headache, this time not from pollution :) I made friend with Kraiana from Germany and next morning we hiked up to a temple, not to see the temple but mainly for the exercise, which I feel I'm missing. That's the problem with travelling, there is no routine at all. You never know when you're gonna eat/sleep let alone have time for exercise, which is a very risky option, since there might not be any hot water to shower with :) This town was also very popular with cutting off electricity at unpredictable times of day, so eating yet again became a problem.
After the hike, went to a very holy temple. Everybody is so religious, bringing various offerings of food and money, just to see some a figure of a god. They made different signs with their hands, and their eyes showed an emotion as if they have never seen anything more sacred in their life. It all ended when they gave the money, and the holy men shooed them away to make space for new donations.
Lonely planet recommended baba restaurant, and everywhere you go, there is one more baba restaurant. We had to look for a while until we found the original restaurant which was actually recommended :)
In the guesthouse, there was this young kid who was 15 years old, who was doing everything, cleaning the rooms, cooking, doing laundry, up keeping the premises, washing dishes, doing shopping, everything, everything. I talked to him for a bit, he said that he makes $60/month, working from 7am-10:30pm every day. All the money he gives to his family, and only keeps the tips for himself. And he only gets 24 hour vacation every 3 months !!!
There was a funny commercial of hair gel on the TV. It shows a guy all dressed in black, with sleek hair, saying "get the mafia look, very sexy!" :))
I read a book about relationships. One of the chapters was what men don't like about women. Some of the things were: she talks too much; emotionally blackmails men; doesn't have a sense of direction. After reading it, I'm still wondering ... am I a typical woman???

Monday, 6 February 2012

Jaipur


The train sitting problem turned out to be ok. I went to the tourist office, and friendly(!) employees showed me where I need to go, what I need to do, in short, my name was on the confirmed list, so I got in :)
On the train, I sat beside 2 very nice Indian families, one was middle class, the other one was upper class (according to my classification :) ). I kept staring at one of the women, she was so beautiful. They reconfirmed my ticket. You could send a text with the ticket number, and a text comes back with wagon and a seat number, because when the ticket checker will come by, he could see that your ticket is a waiting list ticket and ask for 200 rupees to "confirm" it. They told me everything there is to do in the area, offered me very yummy food, and kept feeding me because I said how good it was. The wife went to the husband, see ... she likes it !! He was funny, he asked me why I'm not married yet, and I asked him why do I need a husband, and his chest came so forward as in "what do you mean you don't need a husband!?!!" I told him that I have good education, good job, I can cook, clean, take care of myself, I don't need somebody else to take care for. He didn't really know what to reply to that except that "I do need a husband" :) The problem with arranged marriages is in my opinion they don't work, there is not much love or respect for another (typically a woman). He asked me how old am I, I said 31. He's like, you look so young, my wife is 39 and she looks like an old woman! And pretty much he didn't talk to her, walked in front of her all the time, didn't even look back. She waited until he finished eating, then ate herself. I would love a husband like that !! But he took care of me, he called the hostel to check that they still wait for me and that the driver is already at the station, he walked me to the pickup point and made sure I'm safe. We arrived at 10pm, and he said that if the driver is not there, it's better to stay at the waiting room in the station until the morning. No way!
Stayed in a very nice hostel, it looked like a villa, spacious and clean inside, everything's good except that it was far from center. Again had to sleep under 3 blankets! I'm in a desert now, so days are hot and nights are super cold! I checked the weather online, during the day it's about 20 degrees but feels hotter, and during the night, it's 4 degrees, and yes, it feels like 4 degrees, remember there is no heating anywhere! And in the hotels/buses/trains most of the time the windows don't close all the way.
In the day saw yet another palace, I don't think I need to see any more, had enough, they're all the same! Then saw some cool astrology place, they had signs explaining what it does, but I couldn't understand anything. Tried listening to one guide, but I don't think he had a clue what he's talking about. Then saw a bee hive palace, that one was cool. People approach me and just take my pictures with their camera/phone without asking, so I take pictures of them. You disrespect me, I disrespect you. That's why there are much more pictures of locals on this trip :)
This area of India is known for its fabrics, and most women wear saris. They're so beautiful. While I was walking in the bazaar, I stopped almost beside every store where they showed women the saris, unable to take my eyes off of them. Every sari they would open I would go wooooow, new one, wooooooow.
I went to eat in a very expensive restaurant, I ended up paying over $10, it was a very good service and good food, but it's really not worth it, I'll stick to my $2 dinners :)
Then had lassi which is a very popular drink. It's something like yogurt, but not really yogurt. They also mix it with different fruits or juices. Now I'm having it every day :) In some places they serve it in ceramic cups which they throw out after 1 use. What a waste!
While walking around some puppet guy told me hi, as usual I ignored him and kept walking. He kept following me and asking why nobody wants to talk to the puppet guy. I wonder why? Cause nobody will talk to you without trying to sell you something. Then he said that he studies and just wants to practice English. I told him his English is fine. Then another guy called me "Madam, this guy doesn't want to sell you anything, he just wants to talk to you, why do you run away from him? You should trust people more; he's a very good person. You have the chance to come here and see our culture, but we don't have the chance to go to your country, and the only way for us to learn anything about it is to talk to tourists". After a few more minutes of convincing me to talk to them and the discomfort of an audience who circled us (which they love to do!), I agreed to go sit down somewhere ... it's not like I had anything better to do, and I thought it would make for an interesting story :)
We went to KFC, I didn't have anything because I don't like KFC and because I didn't want to "accidently" pay for them too. They started talking about how life is short, and no matter what happens in it, we have to keep our positivity and be happy. They talked a lot about it, but they didn't seem to be very happy. I think they tried to convince themselves that they are. Donish is 19, he still goes to school to study music and history. His father lost his job a few years ago, so now all he does is drink, but even before he would give 30% to the family and the rest he would drink. In the spare time Donish sells marionettes in the bazaar to support his family, but they're so ugly, I don't know who would buy them. Taj is 27, he travelled a little bit to Indian festivals to Paris, Japan and Mauritius to do marionette shows and play Indian music. He said that he has a little school here where he teaches kids how to play Indian instruments. He read my hand and said that somebody broke my heart and I can't move on, but that I have a pure heart... sounds familiar. Then he said that my throat chakra is blocked (meaning that I don't say everything that I think or feel and keep most of my thoughts inside). I went to 3 palm readers and all of them told me different things. I think they have to come up with something bad so that I'll want to cure it. Buy some stones or do spiritual cleansing which would cost a fortune. Then we went to a tea shop to have some chai, to get there we had to take some shady road and I got a bit nervous, but they kept telling me to trust people more. There were a few people around, so fine, I went. We ordered chai, and it was 30 rupees. When we paid the bill I said that it's quite expensive because on the street it's 5. The waiter overheard me and started "maganabagana" that's it's not the street, it's a restaurant, and he kept going on and on. The bill was ALREADY paid, can't he mind his own business?!?
Btw, I asked the guys about salaries, and they said that this waiter, who works everyday for 12 hours a day, gets about $60 a month!
Next day I took Maria who arrived at night to meet these guys again, and we went to see the guru. They told us that he sells stones, but we don't have to buy anything. The guru said a few accurate things, but I think his fault was that he gave me dates and numbers which weren't completely accurate. I think if you give me numbers, they should be exact, otherwise, don't give them to me at all. He said that my major problem is that I have huge trust issues and that I'm very sensitive, take everything personally and because of that easily hurt. In short, my Pluto (especially Pluto!), Jupiter and Saturn are not in balance and I need stones to heal it. I looked at the rings, they were nice and not expensive ($40) with semi precious stones. I thought I should get one as a souvenir anyway, but decided against it. Then we went to Donish's house in the slum. The house is made up from one room and a little space outside for kitchen and shower. There are about 6 people sleeping in a 3x3 meter room. Taj's musical school is not really a school, but one of these rooms, it has 3 instruments and nobody really knows how to play anything! We walked around a little bit (mainly to get out of the room), took some pictures of the kids and garbage. They played and sang for us; did some puppet show, but after weird moves with the puppets and talks about banana preferences, we decided that it's time to go ... now ! Yes, there is a reason after all why I don't trust most people. First of all I'm a tourist, second of all I'm a girl. I trust myself, and that's what counts!
We hired an auto rickshaw for a few hours to see the sights around the city. Saw a fort which was very beautiful but mostly from outside, it was like growing out of the mountain overlooking a lake. Very very nice. Inside we were walking and walking in circles getting lost through corridors which lead to nowhere. What's the point of all that space? There were cobra tamers playing tubes. At first I thought the cobras were fake, they looked like plastic, but soon enough they started to move around, hiss and jump on the people who got too close, at which point I decided that it's better to make use of my zoom in the camera :)
Then we saw a water palace. I never seen anything like that before, it was a huge palace in the middle of the lake, I wonder how it got there? India surprises me with these buildings. It could look like any other city and I'm wondering what the point of being there, but then one look at a building/monument/fort and the jaw just drops!
In the middle of that trip my butt started hurting from all the pot holes on the road, so it was either a choice to safe my butt by sitting on my hands or to save myself from falling out of the rickshaw. It was a tough choice :)
Next we went to a few textile factories. They showed us how they make all the fabrics, how to do block printing, offered us chai, pepsi, but with the smell of the colors, air pollution, noise pollution, I started to get a headache fast and all I wanted to do is bury myself in all these piles of fabrics and never get out! Afterwards went to a monkey temple. It's not really a temple, just a small hill with a house on top, but about 3000 monkeys live there. We hired two 12 year old monkey protectors, so just in case they'll bite them and not us :) but luckily they were on a good behavior and didn't misbehave. I think the protectors misbehaved more than the monkeys! On the top they asked for money, 100 rupees each! (that's how much a regular person makes a day), we laughed at them, they became aggressive, suddenly all the stories about history and monkey behavior turned into accusations with high pitched sounds! And they demanded the money at the top. I said that they'll receive it at the bottom once their job will be done, but they said that there are a lot of kids at the bottom and they'll steal their money. Fine, we gave them Rs 15 each, and sure enough they disappeared right away, and we left all alone at the mercy of these fearless creatures ;) kidding :)

pictures live here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Jaipur

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Agra

Got on my first train in India, that was pretty exciting :) The 2 Indians I was sitting beside were very helpful. I asked them a bunch of questions, what's safe what's not, what to eat, where to go, how much things cost. They even called a friend to ask what sites are open in a place where I'm going to, because it was Friday and sites were closed to tourists on that day. I noticed that they start raising their voice when they disagree with someone (hopefully not me), but when they talk to each other. First time they'll say it nicely, after first time they almost start yelling.
There are a lot of homeless people near train stations, most of them build tents or structures from anything they can find. For some reason they like to go to the washroom right on the rails. So it's very common to see naked butts anywhere you look. And I saw a peacock! Very strange site, since I'm used to see them in well groomed gardens and not in the middle of that dump!
When I arrived in Agra, I went to buy a train ticket to the next city. Someone got in the line again right in front of me (some waited on the sides), but that one went right in the middle of it. I told him to get out, and he started with maganabanandegegananegebadmabagabanana (read it, then try to say it 3 times as fast, at least that's how it sounded to me :) ). I don't get any of that mumble, and he wouldn't move, so I pushed him out of the line. He resisted, so I put my two hands on his shoulder, leaned towards him so I'll have more power and bulldozed him out :) When the guys on the side saw me doing it, I think they got a hint and moved away :)
I got a waiting list ticket. I really don't know how it works, I think there are 58 people in front of me. I'll go there in 2 hours, hopefully I'll be able to get on the train.
I couldn't understand anything the agent was telling me. There is a glass wall, with a little hole, I stuck my ear into it, but he was talking so fast with Indian accent that after asking him to repeat what he's saying 5 times, I just started repeating him what I need from him. I think I got the right ticket, will find out soon :S
Some taxi driver didn't let me walk, I told him that I'll take a rickshaw, he told me taxi was better, how better? Because it has doors ... uuuummm ... yeeeahh, good reason! I'm taking a rickshaw! :)
For people who don't know what's there to do in Agra, the Taj Mahal is here, and this city is extremely touristic! When I didn't feel the pressure in Delhi, I definitely feel it here, very annoying! And everybody wants to take you on a tour. I'll take you to the fort, then to Taj Mahal, then to baby Taj and to the market, overall it's $8 for a whole day (about 8 hours), but nope, I think I'll do it separately. I can't imagine it costing so much. In the hostel met a girl from Delhi, and we hung out together for 2 days. She's from Poland, lives in Ireland, and didn't tell her parents that she's going to India. She said that she planned the whole trip and so far nothing went according the plan, and that's not the first time I hear it. I guess you can't plan things in India, which suits me just fine :)
Went to lunch to a restaurant, and I ordered Thali, which is a perfect dish for me, it has rice, bread, nano bread with a bunch of different sauces, curries, pickles, so for someone (me!) who wants to try everything, this dish is great! :)
Got a rickshaw to go to the fort. I told him 40, he tells me 60, after a few times like that, ok, you say 40, I say 60, so in the middle it's 50. I tell him, you say 50, I say 40, so in the middle it's 45. Ok, he agreed to 45 :)
The fort was very beautiful. It's the most important fort of India. Great shahs lived there, and country was governed from it. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of medieval history of India. There are monkeys, parrots and chipmunks running around everywhere, and you could see the Taj Mahal from it, very pretty :) I sat in the middle of a lawn to read lonely planet book when I was approached by 5 guys (Indian guys) who asked to look at a map. Sure, I gave them the book thinking it would take half a minute. They started to pass this book around, everybody reading a different section, then asking me about trains and schedules to Jaipur. I said that the schedule is not complete in the book because I got a train for a different time, then they started to pass my ticket around. About 10 minutes later they finally went away. Don't they have any consideration for privacy?
There are bicycle rickshaws and autorickshaws. I always felt bad taking bicycle ones because they work really hard at paddling me, but then I read in lonely planet, that it might feel bad, but that's how they make money, which makes sense. On the exit from the fort, I was approached by a 70 year old man asking me if I want a rickshaw, I felt hesitant at first, but remembering lonely planet tip, I agreed. And that was the first time when I was knowingly scammed. I told him I'll pay him 50 till the hostel, he said, ok 75, but I'll drive you the bazaar, you could look around, I'll wait for you, 1 hour, 2 hours no problem. Ok, fine. But what ended up happening, is I paid more and he took me to the stores where he got commission (in which case I should’ve actually paid less), and this was the time when I didn't want to see any stores, I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. So he dropped me off at jewelry store, then marble store, then he told me 3 more, and I said no, we're going straight to the hostel.
Driver: no no no, I take you to big store, there I get a lot of commission so you go there
Me: I'm not going there, I'm going to the hostel
Driver: but I get paid 50 ruppees!!
Me: But what do I get out of it?
Driver: You get chai
Me: but I don't want chai, I want to sleep.
Finally he goes, ok, I take you straight to the hostel, and you pay me 100! HA!!! NOOOO ! I pay you 75 just like we agreed! And before all that hassle he was telling me about India, and how people are friendly and honest, I said sorry, didn't meet a lot of people like that yet. But then I didn't mind checking the store out, cause it's supposed to be the best store in Agra, but I told him that if I go there, I pay him less, and we agreed for 60. When we were walking there, he gave me the rules, you have to be there at least 10 minutes, and if they give you chai, you drink chai ! Yes sir ! I didn't like the store though, it's extremely expensive. Maybe good quality, but nothing I would wear. They make handmade rugs, and a big rug would take them 3 years to make, and it costs $61,000 USD! Crazy! Then they took me to a jewelry section, and it seriously something that my grandmother would wear. I try to tell him that it's not my style, so he tells me to buy it for me mom (sorry mom, no earrings for you :) ). I said that my mom won't like it either, and he tries to convince me that I need this jewelry, and I need something nice to wear to a party, and by this time he already raises his voice. I told him not to tell me what I should like, and walked out in the middle of some sentence that I didn't hear. At the hostel, I gave the driver 100 rupees, he started telling me that he's old, and that he's knees hurt, and how hard he worked, I told him that it's good for his health, and to give me the change. He gives me 30, and looks at me, I ask for 10 more, and tell him that it's nice to be honest sometimes. It's not the money, it's the principle!
When I went to use the computer, everybody (Indian guys) in the lounge started asking me questions while I'm typing. Where I'm from, how did I like the fort, how long I'm staying here? I try to answer and to read/type at the same time, then I got tired, and told them "guys, I want to check my email please" ... 100 sorry's, but seriously, the 2nd time today ... PRIVACY PLEASE !!!
Went to bed around 8:30, immediately fell asleep, froze the whole night again, and woke up at 5:45am to go see Taj Mahal during sunrise (as recommended in lonely planet). Well, guess what? There is a huge lineup. Men have 3 security checks, while women have only 2, and women carry more on them, so our line didn't move at all. Took us 1.5 hours to get into the gate ... almost time for sunset :)
Taj Mahal is said to be the most beautiful building in the world ... weeeeelll ... it's not ugly, but ... Hm ... maybe it's because I've already seen other temples and tombs, so it's pretty much the same thing. I guess if it would’ve been the first building that I’ve seen I would’ve be impressed, but I really wasn't. And it was very cloudy and misty, so while building against white background doesn't look very good. There were also so many people, almost impossible to take a picture without somebody walking right past the camera.
A bit of history from lonely planet: The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, she died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. The death of Mumtaz left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey virtually overnight. Construction of the Taj began the following year and took eight year to build. Not long after it was finished Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort where, for the rest of his days he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried here along-side Mumtaz. In total, some 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the building. Specialists were brought in from as far away as Europe to produce the exquisite marble screens and pietra dura made with thousands of semiprecious stones. The Taj was designated a World Heritage Site in 1983 and looks as immaculate today as when it was first construction - though it underwent a huge restoration project in the early 20th century. In 2002, having been gradually discolored by city pollution, it was spruced up with an ancient face-pack recipe - a blend of soil, cereal, mild and lime once used by Indian women to beautify their skin. Now only nonpolluting vehicles are allowed within a couple of hundred meters of the building. There is a legend going around that Shah Jahan ordered that the hands of the project's craftsmen be chopped off, to prevent them from every building anything as beautiful again. Some even say he went so far as to have their eyes gouged out.
Afterwards we went to have breakfast on a rooftop hotel with a view of the Taj Mahal. If you didn't know any better, you wouldn't have guessed that in that slum there is one of the wonders of the world just half a minute away. There was a dog eating cow's shit in front of my face. I didn't get a change to take a picture of it, just so you'll have an "eeewwwwwww" reaction just the way I had it ... but hopefully reading about it would do the trick :))
The restaurant was nice, and Taj Mahal looked much prettier from distance than from up-close. The food was great as usual :) Every time I'm pleasantly surprised :)
We went to a bazaar to walk around. There were no tourists there at all. Then we took some side street, and I don't think these streets saw any white faces before. Everybody was following us and looking at us. All the kids were running, laughing, playing around, telling us hello. Even the pigs I think followed us. The men would get up and walk from far away just to ask us where we're from. It was interesting, but a little bit scary at the same time. I just hoped that I wouldn't get raped, stolen, mugged or killed, but they seemed pretty friendly, and didn't want to cause any harm.
On a fork in the road, I asked some guy how to get to the fort, and he told us to go left, then autorickshaw stopped by, we said that we're walking, and he's like, it's ok, I'll tell you the directions, and told us to go straight, I looked back at the guy, and he shook his head. It was left, the driver just wanted for us to get lost, so he'll drive us. Oooooooh ... the fun! One thing I learned is ask for stuff from someone who has no interest in your business!


https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Agra

New Delhi

I froze in the hostel at night. I slept with all of my clothes on, under 2 blankets in child's pose all night long, shivering and unable to fall asleep, and thanks to the jet lag, I was fully awake at 4am lying around counting minutes until at least somebody will wake up. In my room there was a South Korean family, husband, wife and 2 kids. All of them quit their jobs and schools and went travelling around the world. I have to check the salaries in South Korea, if they can afford that kind of trip, with taxies and flights, I wonder if it's worth moving there :) They're very nice people, but they're so loud! It doesn't matter if anybody is sleeping, as long as they don't, nobody does, even if it's 2am or 6am. They weren't even trying a little bit to keep it quiet, what's up with that??!!
For breakfast had some weird grain stuff with potatoes, onions and tomatoes, and it was spicy! Not something I'm used eating in the morning, but food is better than no food, and since I'm paranoid about food in India, I was happy it was made in the hostel.
During breakfast I met Maria and we went to city center. The hostel is pretty far away from everything. First we took a 5 minute rickshaw until the subway, and then 25 minute subway till the center. I have some good reasons for being born a girl, but subway lineups outweigh all other reasons by far! There are separate lineups for men and women. There is so much police in New Delhi, and subway is no exception. It's like passing airport security. Everything has to be taken out of the pockets, bags go through x-ray machine, and everybody is getting checked by the beeping stick. Women enter without any lineup! Sweet! Not only that, there are 2 wagons in each train that are dedicated only to women, not that I mind, it's just less busy and people stare less. I got in line to buy a token to get in, and people started to get ahead of me, and stick their money in the counter window. One I let by, the 2nd one I tapped on the shoulder and told him to get back! Manners are just great in here!
Inside the train you would hear the names of stations, which side to get off, to mind the gap, and messages like that: "passengers are requested not to sit on the floor"; "be aware of suspicious articles: suitcases, toys, thermoses could be bombs".
To get to the bazaar area we had to go through railway station, again, the lineup is huge, we couldn't even see the end of it. While we were looking, someone told us to cut through the line, so we did. As we approached, the army person told us to get to the end of the line, so we turned around and told him that they told us to come here. Who's "they"? I don't know, how can you tell from 1000s people who's "they", so we just pointed a finger at someone random and were let through :) I think since we're in India we have to adopt to their great manners, just to show them what it's like :)
To cross roads here is crazy! Nobody will stop for you, so pretty much you have to take a deep breath and start walking, they will go around. Next we took an auto rickshaw to the red fort, the "must see" attraction in Delhi. The driver told us some unreal price, but we negotiated it down, and also arranged for us to get dropped at some shop to "look around", that way he gets money from the shop for every customer he brings, so we spend 5 minutes and get incredibly cheap price. Sometimes these schemes they use work for our advantage as well :) Just need to know when to use them. Red fort was closed for a parade to be held in a few days, so we went to the mosque. The driver again gave us stupid price, but we said no and decided to walk. He said it's very dangerous area and we should go with him, still no, we're walking! He said ok, no problem, and actually drove us through the bad area with no additional charge.
The whole day I was paranoid about food, since I couldn't find any washrooms, and thought if something were to happen where would I go?? So that was a diet day, I just ate 2 bananas and ice cream.
Mosque was not too interesting. It's the largest one in India and could hold 25,000 people, but inside is all empty with no decorations and no nothing, just 1 big square. Again, since their manners are nonexistent, and I have to blend in, I started taking pictures of everyone without their permissions, and if they don't like it, they can move to Canada! :)
Got another rickshaw to someone's tomb, the driver again said that we can't walk there, and not from there to gardens, and not from gardens to subway, and we should book the whole trip with him. Being from Canada and having an ability to read maps, and assuming that 200 meters is walkable distance, I politely declined, or not so politely, I don't remember. I think I was in a good mood, so he was lucky :)
In the tomb, there was this puppy that was following me around. I felt so sorry for him, he's just born, and has no idea what he got himself into! He's so skinny, you could see all the bones, mother was nowhere to be found, and he didn't have that happy puppy face, he was miserable :( I wish I had some food for him.
After the tomb, rickshaw drivers jumped at us to get a ride with them, but they thought that we are stupid tourists (again, sometimes it's useful to be one), but not when the price is 3 times inflated. So we got it down from 120 to 40.
Gardens were described at most beautiful in Delhi, where royalty takes walks. I'm not sure which royalty they refer to, maybe ones that lived there 500 years ago, but now the gardens look alone and abandoned. In there I finally got the courage to try some food, mainly because I was too hungry, not because I was brave :) So we bought some balls that are made of I don't know what, and are warmed on a stone, so the guy took them with his bare hand, smashed them on the stone and put it on the plate, along with some salad, also hand served. I told him that I want to pick them on my own, and I don't want any salad. I didn't get sick thank god, but I would never do it again. Unless it's fried or boiled in front of my face, I'm not eating it!
Overall impression of the first day is not too bad. I expected much much more hassling, much more poverty and scams, but nope. I think South America is worse, so my bullshit immunity is back on track! (I hope :S )
Next day during breakfast somehow all of us (10 people) got together and decided to go to town. I wanted to buy train tickets to Agra, so I and 2 girls got off the railway station. It took us 2 hours to buy the tickets. First off, we went to a regular lineup, but they told us to get to the tourist office. What kind of discrimination is that? Took a while to find the office since there are no signs, and inside the office there are also no signs as to what to do and who to talk to. We filled out the form, and sat in line which barely moved, it took about 1.5 hours to get to the agent. During that time 2 Indian guys came in, and were walking around. They looked suspicious to me, so I kept an eye on them. The line went around the room, through information desk, and then to the agents. Some girls got stuck at the information desk, and there appeared space just before them, and lo and behold, these 2 guys magically took that space (about 3/4 through the entire line). Everybody was looking at them, the 2 girls I was with said how much they hated people like that, and for some reason nobody but me, whistled at them, snapped my fingers, and pointed them in the direction of the end of the line! Bustards!
I find that Indians close up when they don't know the answer. And you have no idea what's going on, they start looking around, chat to other people, are they asking for tips or just talking? Usually it's just talking, then they look at you after some time, and almost jump with surprise with an expression of "oh man, what are you still doing here?". Either that, or they just stare at you.
Now I understand their mentality a bit more. Manulife started to do business with India, and they sent one guy to Toronto as a link. We gave him some task to do, 3 days later we heard nothing from him, nobody knows the status, what's going on. Finally we ask him and we get a response "oh, I don't know php!". So for 3 days he was sitting there quiet, not doing anything, and not asking anybody for help!
p.s. I'm sitting now in the lobby and overhearing everything that happens in the reception. Everybody who got in to check in got a different price for the room for some reason. "Oh yeah, the rate is different right now!" I'm paying 380 per night, while he gives 490 as a price. Then he helped a girl to book train tickets. She asked if it's the same price if she'll go to a train station, "yeah, of course it is". Ok, first of all, he "found" her trains that leave at 5:40 in the morning. Well guess what? The subway doesn't start that early, and who's taxi do you have to take to get there? Of course hostel taxi which they charge 500 for it, while on the street it will be around 150. I paid 140 for the ticket, meanwhile this girl somehow paid 400. And what else, there is 100 rupees service charge per ticket! So overall I'll be paying a total of about 260, while she just paid 1000. But at least she got the ticket. One girl tried to make a reservation through them, so he told her that everything's booked and she’s good to go. She came back in the evening when someone normal was at the reception, asked for the confirmation number, and was told that there were no bookings made for her!

Back to the original story ... I finally ate food ! It was soooo good! with spices but not hot, so I wasn't turning all red, sweaty and having a liter of water with every bite. Its next day, and I'm still feeling good :) What's even better, I couldn't finish it, because there was so much of it, and it only cost $2 :)
Speaking about prices ... again ... we got approached on the street to buy sunglasses, well, we don't need sunglasses, so we kept on walking, and he kept following us. While we were walking the price was dropping from 300 to 200 – you can’t find any cheaper than that, a second later, ok 100, last offer 80! So if they tell you 300, and you bump it down to 250 and think you got a deal ... think again!
In the evening we went to a temple. It was so amazing!! Too bad cameras were not allowed inside, but it's free, and it's the most beautiful building I've ever seen! All of it is carved from top to bottom to the tiniest detail. Inside the majority of it is covered in gold. The eyes just don't know where to focus, it's so unbelievable beautiful, wow! Actually I think it deserves to be in caps with a few more exclamation marks ... WOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! now that's better! :)
If I were to believe in any religion, I would definitely believe is some Hindu one. They don't just believe in some unknown and unproven god, but they believe in a person who lived a few hundred years ago who inspired people to live in peace, happiness and wealth. Which makes much more sense to me as something to believe in ... except that locals are never at peace, I haven't seen too many happy people, and definitely not wealthy. Maybe that's why the temples are so impressive, and there are 100s of festivals going around the country, just so that people will have something to believe in.
 

The flight

The first idea I got from India was still in Toronto, when my plane was 10 hours delayed. It worked out for me this day though, so I have no complains :)
I can't believe how much luggage they carry, it took me 5 minutes to wait at security to x-ray hand luggage of only 2 people! I'm telling you, the plane must have more capacity for luggage than for people :)
I've heard from somebody that Air India is a good company. I'm not sure if they flew American Airways before that, so in comparison it was good ... but no, not so much :)
The service was barely existent, I pressed a button for assistance, found out an answer by myself, and forgot to turn it off. I think I must have noticed it an hour later that it was still on. I hope the pilots know what different lights mean more than the flight attendants!
Touch screen didn't work, so I had to use the remote. Sometimes it would take me 4 times to select something with long waits in between, cause I didn't know if it was loading or not responding! I selected the language English as a first option, then movies. I open a movie, and I get language selection French and German. Thanks for remembering my preferences! New movies didn't work at all, so I was watching classical movies. There were only 2 TV - Comedy shows. One was an episode of friends, and the other one was the life of Steve Jobs, I watched 5 minutes of it, but didn't find it very funny :)
The food was ok, Indian but edible :) If the food will be like that during the trip, I might actually survive! :) The dessert was some yellow liquid thing with small noodles that looked like moving. I was scared it would crawl off my spoon when I picked it up :)
I don't even know how to start describing Indian women. I looked around in surprise trying to understand who in the right mind married them, didn't find an answer, but then I guess they have arranged marriages in India, so they really don't have to try.
They're completely hopeless! I had a mother and a daughter sitting beside me. The mother asked the daughter like 10 questions every minute. How do I select the language, how do I move the sit back, gave her all the garbage, couldn't find a remote that was connected with a half meter cord from its base, complained all the way about every little thing. When we were about to exit, the daughter took the entire luggage, her moms hand bag, pillow, and then told her to give her the passports. So pretty much the mom didn't carry anything at all! I also noticed a huge a** ring on her finger, so I guess they have money to hire help as well. Why would they even do anything on their own? I would've loved to send her to South America or Africa where actually men don't do anything, in hopes that she'll be able to open a pack of sugar and peanuts by the end of the trip!
When I was getting out of the seat into the isle when we were getting off, people were pushing me and not letting me out. Before me a mother and a daughter came out, and I gave space for the father to come out too, he really thanked me for that! Like I'm gonna fight with him and separate him from his family! I had a smirk noticing all that, and I'm thinking, if that happens in the plane where people should be even a little bit civilized, what will happen on the streets? Have to get my immunity to bullshit pretty quick, otherwise I don't know how I'll get anywhere!
I was greeted with a "Welcome to India" sign with heavily armed police officers sitting right beneath it. Thanks for the warm welcome :)
In the passport control, I guess the flight didn't register in the computer yet, so I waited pretty long time in silence without anybody telling me what's wrong. They were chatting and laughing between themselves with complete ignorance towards me. While I was waiting at the counter, there were 2 people who went to the same clerk and hand her their passports!!! while I was there! And I thought I was impatient. Although I'm not sure I will call it impatience, I think its more lack of manners and disrespect!
I waited for my suitcase for about an hour. Mind you that after an hour, neither the amount of suitcases, nor the people became smaller! They're like turtles, carry everything they own with them!
While I was waiting near the belt, some dude came near me, hit my leg with the trolley and told me to move, cause he wanted to wait where I'm waiting. No please, no thanks, I don't think these words are existent in here! I'll have to check that out. Then while I was waiting in a very close proximity to the belt, I was chatting with another backpacker, and a few minutes later noticed that there were already 2 guys right in front of me! How did they get there? I think I understand their logic now. You want something, you go get it, and don't give a **** about anybody else! I think I can handle that :)
I had to make a phone call to the hostel to pick me up. I go to the information desk to ask where I can make a phone call, and where to take money out. He points me to the phone, and says that it will have a bill come out of it that will say how much the call was. I ask him how to pay for it, and he answered me "with money". Good answer! Um ... ok. Who do I pay the money to? Oh, so there is a person working there that helps around, I see. Now I tell him that I don't have money on me, and he tells me to go exchange it, I tell him that I have no money to exchange. He looks at me, and asks me "Then how can I help you?" :) Ok .... I thought about it for a bit, and reorganized the question for him, so that the actions will be in order, and that hopefully it will make sense to him.
"I need to take money out of the bank and THEN to make a phone call". This one he actually got ! Ok, so the bank is outside, and the phone is near the bank. Halleluiah !! It worked! :)
While we were driving to the hostel, the driver didn't say a word, not like in South America where they won't give you a second to yourself. I didn't even know if a guy knows English! The driving is crazy as usual, pretty much the rules are "there are no rules". He was going in the middle of two lanes most of the time. There was a divider between directions, so some car was going in the opposite direction (on the highway!) just because it didn't want to go forward and make a U-turn! There was an exit on the right side, and about 20 meters later an exit on the left side, so the cars went from the right exit to left exit, pretty much crossing a 4 lane highway horizontally without any signs and nobody else slowing down!
That was an interesting experience!