Choo Choo

this post is originally from February 20, 2010

Holy cow…I think that I only need to experience an overnight train in India once in this life time. Lets see…when the train stops everyone just pushes and shoves to get on. Our group was split up which meant that we were sleeping with strangers. trainWhen we found our compartment there was nowhere to sit or put our bags because the people who got there first looked like they had brought all their earthly belongings!  People were yelling at the top of their lungs and we just couldn’t understand a thing. Thankfully we have our guide with us who also took part in the yelling match. At one point an old woman was yelling at me to lift my feet…which I couldn’t because I had no room to lift them. Eventually we got things sorted and when the little woman turned all of our lights off we didn’t complain because she was a bit on the scary side. Once we pulled the beds down and tried to get comfortable the old woman’s mobile started ringing and she decided to have a full on conversation at top volume. Then the old man beside us decided to answer his phone in the middle of the night and started having quite the conversation in Hindi – again in a yelling voice. Meanwhile I had to pee several times and thus required me to make my way from the middle of three bunks down and to the toilet. I wont elaborate on what the washroom looked like, but I am sure you can use your imagination. 16 hours was plenty and it was more than a joy to get off in Mumbai. This train ride of ours could have been worse…one of my group members woke up to a hand tickling her body. When she pushed the hand away it kept creeping back to find her. This was all through curtains and she couldn’t see who the man was.  Creepy with a capital C!!!!!!!

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Mumbai is crazy interesting. I can’t get over how many people actually exist in one place. It is unbelievable. The city itself is cleaner than Delhi and the beautiful Victorian architecture is amazing. But what lies within the city and is at every 24245_10150124302375434_5316752_ncorner are the slums. At one point our taxi driver stopped  to let everyone get out to go walk through the slums. I was disgusted because the slums should not be a tourist attraction  – so I waited in the taxi with Jess. Can you imagine what those poor people must think when all these westerners gawk at them?? I was completely embarrassed. We then saw all the ‘real tourist’ sites, The Hanging Gardens, Hotel Taj, The Gateway to India, Dobi Ghat…and for supper we went to the infamous restaurant called Leopold’s. Leopold’s has been a target for past terrorist attacks and bullet holes still paint the walls. (By the way, if you are looking for a great book, read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a lot of the scenes in the story take place here at Leopold’s.)24245_10150124302430434_5076056_n

And this morning we  were off to Goa by plane. It was so great to land in the tropics and the heat is wonderful. 34 degrees today. Splendid!!!!!! The first thing we did when we got to our hotel was strip into our bikinis and head to the beach. The water was wonderful – the perfect temperature and the waves were super fun to jump into. We had supper on the beach and watched the sun set. Ahhhh, now this is the life.

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And just a few minutes ago we got back from a massive market with hundreds of stalls. This really is my kind of place. I had to fight off the little woman that kept grabbing my arm so that I would look at her goods, but overall I am proud of myself for not caving into the temptation to buying more beautiful bedding.
I am so excited to be here. It is so beautiful and will be a nice change from the nonstop touring that we have done.

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Mt Abu

this post is originally from February 18, 2010

Well hello there from sunny India!
The last few days we have seen many beautiful views. We took a bus to Mt Abu which is obviously in the mountains. It looks nothing like our mountains in Canada, as there are cacti and monkeys everywhere. It is absolutely gorgeous.
Oh I forgot to mention that the other day in Udaipur we also took painting lessons. I did an elephant, and notice I used the word ‘did’ as I am no artist whatsoever. It was cool as we were taught the traditional way of painting.

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Ok – back to yesterday … when we arrived we went to the lake and hired paddle boats. It was all good and fun until we got stuck in the middle of the lake on  rock. One of our friends had to come at us full speed on their paddle boat to hit us off, but a piece of their boat came flying at us. Don’t worry, the boats looked pretty shabby anyway. Glad we didn’t sink as the water was a nice shade of green.
We then hiked up a mountain to a point where we relaxed and watched the sun set. It was very beautiful and I just can’t get over the amazing scenery. The peace and serenity of the moment was a little disrupted when I sat on a bee. It got the back of my leg and Jess pulled its stinger out of me. No Indian Bee Disease here!!!

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It is funny because we really don’t have to do anything as a group but we all have so much fun together that the 15 of us are one big posse.
This morning we headed off to the highest peak within the mountain range. It is a large range that spans from Gujarati all the way to Punjab. Near the top I had a couple of men offer to take me up on a swing like contraption. Basically the bamboo pole is on their shoulders and I sit on a seat like a princess in the middle. I felt like a complete dolt, but it was worth a good laugh and I didn’t have to get all sweaty. I gave them a good tip for having to haul me up the mountain.
Later we went to the biggest Jain Temple in the world. Jainism is a form of the Hindu religion. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take cameras into the temple because the inside was simply  breathtaking to say the least. The whole temple is marble and every inch is covered with intricate carvings. It is unbelievable really, and my words can not do it justice. The temple dates back to 1100 and it stands so magnificently. Unfreakingbelievable!!!!

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This afternoon as we were walking through the market a local television crew asked if we could be taped. Our guide was actually with us at the time so he confirmed it was a legit crew. We had to pretend that we were on a spiritual journey and go into a temple and look ‘spiritually awakened’. I was the lucky one to be interviewed and I am not quite sure what exactly I rambled on about but…my last statement was that we also road camels. It will be televised on Monday so if any of you have Indian local television…stay tuned.
And just a few minutes ago a friend and I  attempted the bungee trampoline. This is where they strap you up and you are hurled into the air bouncing from a trampoline. The friend who did this with me is a guy and he didn’t have as good as experience as I did as his balls were crushed…but I nearly pissed myself laughing . The only thing I had to worry about was making sure I didn’t swing and hit the telephone wires because they looked a bit dodgy.

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Now we are waiting for the dreaded 16 hour over night train ride to Mumbai. Good luck is in order!!!!
Oh and one more interesting thing. Did you know that there are swastika symbols EVERYWHERE?? A swastika means to know ones inner self and is actually an ancient symbol. At first I was appalled that everyone had them hanging everywhere… and to tell you the truth the disgust still hits me, but it is an image of peace here in India. Just glad we didn’t stay at the Swastika Hotel last night. That would have felt just plain old wrong.
Anyhoo, until next time…

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Udaipur

this post is originally from February 16, 2010

A couple of days ago we boarded the train on route to the city of  Udaipur. I have to tell you that with all my  shopping (bedding and good deals) my bag is now bigger than I am. I need the others to help me board the train as I literally can not get up the steep stairs. We all decided to upgrade from the very basic to the next level up, and thank god we did. As we walked past the train that we were originally supposed ride, it was rows upon rows of wooden benches and then metal bars for windows. People were so crammed in and their heads were gasping at air through the bars. Our seats were definitely not as posh as the Greyhound is at home, but were a hell of a step up from the basic. The 6 hours went by slowly and we finally arrived late at night.

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The group that I am travelling with are super great. I love everyone and we all get on so well. Yesterday morning we walked through town to the City Palace. We hired a guide to take us through which was a big mistake. As soon as the man started to speak my A.D.D (attention deficit disorder – that I don’t really have but just have a short attention span at times) kicked in and I was far more interested in taking a look by myself. We couldn’t understand a word he said and he wanted to explain each and every painting. By the end we were so ready for lunch.  Almost everyone in my group are craving meat and me (being a vegetarian)…I am in my element with so many veggie options. With the sacred cows roaming all over the place it is obviously impossible for the others to eat…a steak.  Like I said cows are everywhere and it is imperative to walk with your head down or else you are prone to slipping in something not so lovely which one of the guys here already has.

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Last night we were invited by our guide Yash, to his family’s residence as this is where he is from. It isn’t a house, but a pseudo palace with so many floors that I lost count. We sat on the roof and had dinner under the stars with the palace lights and lake around us. Oh yah, we also took a boat ride around the lake yesterday which was interesting as it also serves as a bath and a laundry stop for the locals. Did I mention the lake was green and 24245_10150124290355434_3603797_nthere was no way you could see the bottom?
I have been struggling whether or not to tell you a story that happened a few days back as I don’t want to alarm you. I figure I will tell you now, as I am out of harms way and by going through this I feel that I am more on guard than ever. So there have been some men that have taken to me (not exactly sure why but whatevs). You see the other day me and a couple other girls were shopping at a fabric shop where I bought my heaps of bedding. The man who was trying to sell us stuff asked if I wanted to try a sari on and of course I did why not? (I didn’t want to buy one, but this would be a great photo, right?) He took me away from the girls -around a corner, down a hall, and another corner and finally in a room where he closed the door. I went into the change room first and he followed me in and when he locked the door he was blocking the door so I was trapped. Red lights started to flash in my head, but I couldn’t do anything at that point. Then he said ‘I am going to touch you, but only to a limit…unless you want me to go past the limit?” Of course my answer was no. But it didn’t end there. He wanted to know why I didn’t want to go past the limit and why I don’t like Indian men? He persisted the whole time while helping to put the sari on and meanwhile I was so far away from the girls that they couldn’t hear me if I yelled. He said he wanted a girl like me and would like to go past the limit. HMMMMMM. Yes I was so uncomfortable and hoped like hell this man would keep his hands to himself. Somehow it was a blur, but thankfully I talked my way out and he did keep his hands to himself.I definitely couldn’t have gotten out of that place faster. Never again will I go anywhere alone and the funny thing was that he totally could have wrapped the sari around me right there with the girls. Again…you think you  are well traveled…but then something like this happens and I realize how trusting I can be.

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Anyway, I’m still having loads of fun. Tonight we are going to watch a traditional Rajasthani dance performance so that should be good. And tomorrow we bus on to Mt. Abu.
Big hugs from Incredible India

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Pushkar

this post is originally from February 14, 2010

Yesterday we bused it to a town called Pushkar. I almost got motion sick on the way,  but managed to keep it down. Pushkar is a holy place where no alcohol, meat or eggs are allowed in the town. It is considered holy because this is where the only temple for Brahma the Creator is – so many flock here to the holy lake. Funny thing is that the lake is completely dried up right now. I wonder what that means?

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Yesterday we had lunch on a rooftop where we sat on piles of pillows on the floor. It was such a unique experience as the sun was beating down and the hills and temples surrounded us. We shopped in the market for a bit and came back to eat and watch another Bollywood film called Namaste London.

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This morning we woke at 5:30 and made our way to one of the many temples to watch the sunrise. It was 45 minutes of hell to climb to the top.  First of all I have a cold so I could only breathe out of my mouth. Then I got stomach cramps and was worried that I was struck by the infamous ‘Delhi belly’…  Jess had to hold my arms while I leaned my bare ass off the edge of a cliff.  Once at the top it was beautiful! Definitely worth the climb of death!

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This evening was really cool. We each rode a camel into the desert. Pushkar is semi desert so it was really neat to ride the camel in a natural setting. Did you know that when a camel is ‘in heat’ it has this thing that basically looks like a kidney that falls out of its mouth. It was foaming from the mouth with this nasty organ hanging and chasing this other camel. I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t riding either camel because it looked incredibly messy…but watching it from afar I nearly busted a gut laughing !24245_10150124290415434_3517196_n Half way thru we stopped for a while and attracted the local children. Thankfully these kids didn’t  beg and I got to do cartwheels and play in the sand with them.  It was refreshing to see kids play and be happy in an environment which is so full of poverty.

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Jaipur…Jai HO!

this post was originally from February 11, 2010

24245_10150124290005434_890870_nSo when I left off we were about to embark on a 6 hour bus ride on local buses. Lordy lordy! On average the driver would blow his horn about once every minute. Just when you would start to nod off, BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. And the stopping and starting didn’t help either. I thought I was bad with motion sickness but Jessica didn’t last the first hour. She was puking next to me like nobody’s business. And when she asked the driver if there was a garbage (that she could put her puke bag in)…what did he do but open the window and throw it out with the rest of the garbage that lined the roads! With a leaky bag Jess had no choice but go along with it. And I guess that saying applied here-when in Rome…
We arrived in the city of Jaipur which is situated in more of a hilly area. It is quite beautiful. At one point on the bus my eyes were closed and just when I opened them right at the window beside me was a camel pulling some massive load. Yes, we are nearing the desert. This city has so many animals on the roads –  elephants, camels, oxen, extra large pigs, dogs and monkeys. Because of all the animals there is more than just garbage that lines the streets -there is dung…lets just hope that it isn’t from humans anymore. But that doesn’t stop the people from pissing right next to us when we are on the street corner.

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We took a walk on the main street and then had a good old fashioned meal at McDonald’s. It baffles my mind that no matter where you go in the world McDonald’s fries are always the EXACT same. This McD’s does not serve beef or pork products. I had a McVeggie meal… it was interesting, but maybe the McMaharaja would have been a better choice??? At 6 we went to the cinema to watch a Bollywood film called 3 Idiots. The title was in English, but the movie was definitely not. And better yet the 3 hour movie had no subtitles. It was pretty funny from what I could understand, but what was the most enjoyable was how the audience hoot and hollered when anyone would kiss. Indian’s definitely watch movies differently than us!

24245_10150124290070434_6214465_nThis morning we were up bright and early and headed to the Amber Fort. It is a massive fort built in the hilltops. From afar the fort walls look like the Great Wall of China. We sat atop a painted elephant as he took us up to the fort. I was a bit distraught because the elephant handlers held this massive ice pick looking tool and would hit the elephant on the head to make it move. One of the elephant’s head was bleeding so I was having a fit and trying to make sure that our handler didn’t hit our elephant.

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While there, I was far more interested in watching a production of another Bollywood film being filmed than touring the grounds of the fort. I asked if I could be in it…but i don’t think I fit in that well. Although  since I have been here I have been told that I look like a Bollywood star and that I also look Muslim (I didn’t know Muslim’s had a look). At one point we got stuck in the labyrinth of fort walls and couldn’t find our way back to the courtyard.  I felt like I was in a claustrophobic state so when I saw a small opening to the courtyard (like literally a small hole in a wall that was probably a drain hole) I squished myself through the hole making quite a scene. An angry security guard told me to get out but I just told him NO and ran the other direction. The others from the group followed but I think I was the target of the guards rages.

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We went to quite a few more scenic areas and the last was the Monkey Temple. Here we climbed quite the mountain (or so it felt like) to the top where a temple was and where monkeys were in abundance. When we went inside the temple a lady gave us some sugar, then placed the red dot on our head and then asked for the customary donation. We put money in the dish and the lady wanted more. She seriously got pissed that we didn’t give her enough and I have never seen a look of death that ferocious in my life. So we left and the whole way down the children that we thought we befriended on the way up begged us for more money than what we gave them. Little fuckers! It makes me so sad that these children don’t know any better. They are taught from such a young age to beg with looks in their eyes that could melt your heart, and what you give is just never enough. It is awful!

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Hawa Mahal – Palace of Winds

We were then taken to a textile factory where my shopping addiction came to life. Let’s just leave it at that because I feel guilty for spending so much money… and I don’t know how in the world I am going to lift my bag with my extra load. I will come home quite muscular I am sure.
So get this…right now as I am typing I here some music pumping and fireworks going off. There is never a shortage of sensory overload here! Oh and I saw 2 cows with 6 legs and one cow with 5 legs. Nearly puked right there.
Anyway, tomorrow is a new day and we are off on the bus yet again to Pushkar.
Until then…

Delhi, Agra and Beyond

this post was originally from February 9, 2010

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Do you know that feeling when you have so much to tell but you question whether to say anything at all because you don’t know where to begin? This is exactly how I feel. In one day we have seen and done so much that it is hard to take in every single detail. I lay in bed at night thinking about what stories I want to write about, and new things will pop into my head all the time.

The most heart wrenching is the poverty. I tend to compare the poverty with what I experienced in Tanzania and it is not even comparable. Yes, many in Africa were extremely poor…but there even the people who had nothing had a joy in their heart and a sense of order. Here in India,  it is absolute chaos and people look utterly depressed.  People took care of their huts and what little they had in Tanzania. Here they throw garbage anywhere and dodging a big loogy (spit) is not uncommon. Now as you read this, you might think wow, that place sucks-but it is amazing all at the same time. Even though a lot of my words sound like I am complaining I want to stress that this is the magic of India. There is so much good among what seems chaotic and mental. Being a tourist and uncovering all these things at once is a bit overwhelming, but also at the same time completely exhilarating. India is a place of stark contrasts, and my emotions tend to be all over the place just the like country!
As I said in the last post we did all the major touristy things in Delhi over the two days we were there before meeting our tour group. If you look at a Delhi guide we probably did and saw it all. It was a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t want to have left India without experiencing it all. The second day we hired a cycle rickshaw and he took us into a place called Chowdy Chok where all the local merchants are. The streets are extremely narrow and at each corner you saw new and interesting sights. When we looked up it was shocking.  There were thousands of wires – telephone and electrical wires that zigzagged to create a web of  tangled electricity!  I am sure that many of you have seen images like this on the internet, but seeing this first hand made one completely speechless!

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Feeling like more of an attraction that the attraction itself…look at all my admirers!

We met a little boy who spoke perfect English and wanted to sell me post cards. I spoke to him for a bit and asked if he goes to school. No – this little boy who I later found out is one of many who are owned by the Indian Mafia. The movie Slum Dog Millionaire is a perfect depiction of the corruption and abuse that goes on all the time in this country.   It made my heart sink and I couldn’t help but cry when I left the little boy.
Later we met a guy who happened to work at a travel shop. We checked on tours to see about going on a Tiger Safari (one of my dreams) and decided to change our trip a bit. Instead of spending the last days in Goa on the beach we cut it two days short and changed our flights so we leave from Delhi. This way we are going on a two day safari in a National Park so that we can see India’s wildlife and of course the tigers that are quickly becoming extinct. I am super pumped.
We met our G Adventures tour group and I am definitely the granny of the group. Who knew 31 was so old?  They are all super nice – from UK, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Jess and I are the only Canucks.

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Yesterday we took a 5 o’clock train to Agra. The train ride itself was one in a million. I have never seen so many bare asses in all my life!! Full moons were everywhere. People tend to take a shitter right at the side of the tracks. Try eating your train meal while watching men who are taking a poop- it was a feat!!!! You might suggest I just look away…but it was one of those things that as much as you don’t want to watch, you just cant avert your eyes. I look harder when I see something I shouldn’t. Like the other day in the city – on the side of the road an old man was laying there with his bare butt in the air. Of course I look harder and notice that he has balls the size of a football. That image is forever embedded in my memory.

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Speaking of embedded in my memory…the Taj Mahal. I just cant describe in words the awe and wonder when I first set eyes upon this massive structure. It is beautiful. Intricate. Massive. And Magical. I think I took one too many photos…but photos just cant do it justice.

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As well we saw the Red Fort, and  the Baby Taj. But the topper of the day was having supper at Pizza Hut. Kidding. Not kidding that we had Pizza Hut, but definitely just doesn’t fit in with the whole ‘India thing’.  I think my stomach might be thanking me for one meal without spice…but the Indian food here is to die for.
Today we are taking a 6 hour bus ride to Rajasthan. We are taking local transportation so I am sure there will be some good stories to tell you.

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The First Few Days in India

this post is originally from February 7, 2010

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We arrived in the middle of the night and within minutes were caught in a scam but had no idea until after. (I guess that is why scams work!) We prepaid a taxi to our hotel, and he wanted 300 Rup. I gave him a 500 bill but instantly he switched it for a 100 and demanded more. I was so caught up in the moment that I believed him. Duhhhh! It is probably a good thing that this happened right off the bat because it definitely made me realize I have to be more careful. Again I didn’t realize that this even happened until we got to our hotel and I couldn’t find the 500 Rup bill.

Getting to our hotel was another feat. As we dodged traffic and swerved into many lanes we arrived in the general area that the hotel was located. Problem was that there were police barricades everywhere and our taxi driver couldn’t reach the area. His explanation was that they had arrested people from Al Qaida and ever since the police have been storming the area. Hmmmm…this sounds fishy. We were told that it was impossible to get to our hotel and at 1 am our driver took us to a tourist office. The dude at the tourist office told us that we could walk there but we might get attacked by ‘crabs’. Crabs???? What the hell??? After discussing this with my friend Jessica we came to the conclusion that the man meant crowds. After contacting the hotel and losing a few more hours sleep we were finally taken to the hotel. Once at our pre-booked hotel we were now told that this hotel is also fully booked… and were escorted to our second hotel. WTF? Only in India. 24245_10150124289760434_1467181_n

Yesterday morning we woke up and got ourselves up to see the city of Delhi. It is much different than seeing it in the dark. We hired a taxi for the day and he took us to many of the major sites. The highlights were seeing the crazy architecture and of course being bombarded by people. The traffic is insane. I know i have seen crazy driving in many of my past travels, but for some reason I just don’t get used to it. Our driver told us the key to driving in India are three things. 1. Horn 2. Brake and 3. Luck. I hear ya! What struck me most was little children dodging in and out of traffic while we were stopped and doing cartwheels. We would literally be on busy roads and these children would flip in front of the car and then beg for money. It was truly heart wrenching.

As well, Jess and I seem to attract a lot of attention here. Yes, us white folk… we stick out. People take our pictures both discreetly and very indiscreetly. At one point we had a crowd taking turns posing with us. Others wanted to shake our hands. It is truly a bizarre experience…but what the hell…when in India!24245_10150124285695434_3027258_n

The food so far is awesome and we are definitely trying as much as we can. I’m not sure if our stomachs are thanking us, but are taste buds definitely are. The trouble is, when we get home we wont know what the hell we ate because it is just put in front of us and that is that. I honestly have no idea what is even in the dish…I just make sure it is vegetarian.

This morning we nearly lost our lives not once, but a few times. Because we have not adjusted to the time change we have been getting up at an ungodly hour. We tried to walk to the ‘Monkey Temple’ and trying to cross traffic was insane.  Cars, rickshaws, bikes…they don’t stop. It was a tad scary …but we are back safe and sound. While in the temple we had to cover our heads but Jess didn’t bring a scarf. This man gave her the dirtiest hat to put on.  I thankfully was wearing my hoodie. We were then told to drink the water and pour it over our face. (Not particularly interested in getting the ‘Delhi Belly’, I pretended to drink it.)  We were also given some food bits to eat. (Again I held in my hand and pretended to chew) And then at the end the man put a dot on our forehead to bless us. 24245_10150124289745434_5908188_n

Anyhoo, today we will tour around Delhi and see as much as we can. And tomorrow we start on our G Adventures Tour.

The G Adventures Tour has changed a bit since 2010, but this is roughly the path we took

Delhi to Goa

Stay tuned for more…