Saturday, January 26, 2013

Honeymoon Edition: Bombay & Goa

After our last post, we journeyed by plane from Delhi to Bombay!  We were surprised at how much we enjoyed Bombay.  Among other funtivities, we ate lunch at a delicious seafood restaurant, Apoorva, in the Fort district.  Shrimp in spicy red curry, with fresh lime juice.  After the meal, they considerately give you tiny bowls in which to wash your hands ... but they didn't count on John's hands.  

Wandering the streets of Bombay, we indulged in some sugar cane juice.  Gross green color, but mildly sweet, delightful taste!

Not yet knowing the reason why, we encountered several members of a marching band, frantically waiving down taxis on Marine Drive and then piling into the tiny cars, 4 or 5 at a time, with their instruments!  

About 20 minutes later, we realized that the destination of the musicians was an elaborate wedding!  They surrounded the groom and his friends and family as they marched to the wedding venue in a traditional pre-wedding ceremony.  The music was loud and awesome!  These guys played their hearts out!

Huge crowd for the wedding.  Per tradition, the groom is seated on a horse at this juncture.  That's because it's his last chance to run away.  

Gorgeous Marine Drive, the Western edge of Bombay, at sunset.

That night, we took an overnight bus from Bombay to Goa.  We were lucky to get the very back of the bus as our "bed," because the space was about 7 feet long BUT the disadvantage was a bright light shining on us all night!  We used our last two band-aids and the remaining pages of our itinerary to make an emergency shade.

Finally, we've arrived at Calangute beach in Goa!  Our hotel, a "heritage house," leftover from the Portugese colonization of Goa (which was from the 15th century-ish to 1961!), is beautiful and relaxing!

Our first walk on the stunning beach.

Indians and tourists alike love to enjoy the beaches of Goa!

The front yard of our hotel.

Koi pond inside the hotel.

Not content to lounge on the beach ALL day, we ventured into Panjim (capital city of the state of Goa) to celebrate India's Republic Day (anniversary of the signing of the Constitution).  Here's John at a Portugese church.

Bex in front of a Portugese-style house in Panjim.

Bascilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, the former capital.  Remains of St. Francis of Xavier, who spread Christianity to India, reside here and are shown to the public once every 10 years.  We did not happen to hit on that date, unfortunately.

John having an Indiana Jones moment with the cool floor in the adjacent Cathedral.

Lunch is served!  Palak paneer (green thing), pork vindaloo (red thing), naan, and fresh-squeezed watermelon juice.  Yum!

 Mere minutes later.  So good!

Gazing out at the beach from "our table" at our favorite lunch spot, Souza Lobo, here in Goa.

"I hope 20 minutes after eating goes by quickly so I can jump in that ocean!"

Super-crowded beach (and plenty of boozing) for Republic Day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Honeymoon Edition: Jaipur

Well after a couple of days trying to update this blog with some more stories and pictures, we're finally back! With the tour we've been on it's been a challenge to get to an internet cafe. Our days are booked pretty heavily, so carving out time has been tough. In addition to that, finding a computer capable of uploading pictures has been an even more challenging prospect. As of this moment, we're awaiting our farewell group dinner at the DoubleTree hotel outside of Delhi, and we have such a capable computer! So without further ado, a photo collage!

Our first day in Delhi, at the hotel, ready to explore!

Outside the Jamma Mosque in Delhi. The weather was not cooperative, especially barefoot!

At the Gandhi memorial site in Delhi

Taj Mahal, of course!

The Taj from Agra Fort

Our first Tuk Tuk ride

The hotel in Agra surprised us with a wedding cake. Very nice!

Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned former capital under Moghul Emperor Akbar ("It's a trap!")

Our tour was choc full of characters. This was Ricky. Later he sported a turban with the same outfit.

Hawa Mahal viewing facade for Muslim women in Jaipur

View from the top of an elephant. We rode him up a long ramp to the top of the Amber Fort in Jaipur.

There were a lot of other elephants as well. It was about a 15 minute ride.

Diwan-i-Am in Amber Fort. It's the Hall of Public Assembly. Becca learned the name the quickest so the tour guide told her she passed the India test so she can leave.

Mirrored "Pleasure Room"

Beautifully taken picture of the Amber Fort

Procession of elephants up to the Fort, with the city of Jaipur in the background


Water Palace in Jaipur

Our favorite chai stand outside the hotel in Jaipur. We had chai with our driver and his assistant a couple of times, as well as with the owner of the stand (in the middle), who was happy to offer us Indian smokes and English newspapers while serving us tea in his finest cups.

We'll be heading to our hotel in Delhi soon, then catching a flight to Mumbai tomorrow morning. From there we'll go to Goa. Hopefully we won't go so long without another update, but it's hard to tell around here what will happen next. Until then, Namaste!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

India: Honeymoon Edition

Good news! After a 3 year hiatus, JohnGoesToIndia is back! This time, it's the Honeymoon edition. As I'm sure most people reading this know, Becca and I got married last year and now we're on a belated Honeymoon for 2 weeks in India.

We left Wednesday morning and after long flights to New York, Paris, and New Delhi, we arrived Thursday night just before midnight. Luckily our flight was not diverted to the Northern Indian city of Amritsar, like some of our tour group, so we got to the hotel at about 3 in the morning and did our best to sleep. Unlike my last trip to India, we're staying in some very comfortable hotels, so it was great to have a nice shower and sleep in a good bed.

We woke up early and did our best to shake off the jet lag before having some breakfast (among other options: noodles, curry, dim sum, oatmeal, waffles, and lots of fresh juices like orange, pineapple and watermelon). The weather has actually been pretty cool, about 60 degrees. It's a bit odd to be cold in India, but we're dealing with it reasonably well. It certainly makes walking around a lot more pleasant!

On our first morning we toured Delhi. We went to Jama Mosque, which was beautiful and somewhat empty due to the rain. Becca had to wear a cover gown as they recently instituted a rule that all Western women have to wear that, even if they are properly dressed. It was fun walking around barefoot in the rain, and seeing the biggest Mosque in India (supposedly it fits 20,000 people). From there we went to Raj Ghat to Gandhi's memorial in a large park. It's a simple black marble stone, with some of his sayings engraved around the walls of the memorial. After that was our favorite of the day, Lakshmi temple. It was actually established by Gandhi as a temple for people of all castes and even various religions. There are depictions of Hindu Gods as well as Buddha, Sikhs, and Sufis. We learned that Hinduism adopted Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, which seems like a pretty smooth move.

The temple was entirely marble, and the biggest challenge of the day was not falling as we went up and down marble steps in the rain. It was incredibly slippery, and we had 2 people in our tour group take pretty hard falls. The cocky local teenager jogged down the steps in the rain, only to fall really hard as he tried to laugh it off. Kids these days, am I right?

After our morning of sightseeing in Delhi we got lunch (Becca had her favorite: Okra, or as it's known here, Ladyfingers). We all hopped on the bus and headed out to Agra. They just finished a new highway so we had a pretty nice and smooth trip, although we were so jet lagged we slept most of the way.

This morning we awoke to head to the Taj Mahal. After a mistake by yours truly (I forgot I had a small tripod in my bag, which is prohibited. They then made me take it to a locker a ways away and I was separated from the group for a little bit), we saw the gorgeous Taj. It was my second time seeing it, but it was just as spectacular. Becca was also a fan, especially up close, as you can see some very impressive details in the marble and semi-precious stone inlays.

In the afternoon we took a break from the rest of the group to go out on our own for a little adventure. We tried a local restaurant (delicious veggie curry, chapati and daal), then walked (amazingly not getting lost AT ALL) over to Agra Fort, with a brief stop for some amazing chai (I forgot how much better the chai is here than most places at home). The fort was fun, although the Taj really stole the show today. We took our first tuk tuk ride of the trip home (a LOT scarier than being on a giant tour bus), as the driver offered to take us other places and we declined he repeated again and again "you happy, I happy!". This evening we got another tuk tuk to get some South Indian food (remarkably similar to our favorite South Indian restaurant in our neighborhood, Udupi Palace) and now, of course, we sit at the internet cafe (our driver, when asked to take us to an Internet cafe said "You want Internet coffee?". Um, no, we don't was Internet coffee.)

Tomorrow takes us to Jaipur, and hopefully to an internet cafe with a computer than I can upload pictures to!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The End

I'm home.

I made it back after three long flights, and even arrived a little earlier. Everything went very smoothly. Well, everything except when I opened my bag at home and discovered my hiking shoes had been stolen and replaced with the very worn sandals of an Indian airport worker. Baggage handlers at the New Delhi airport can't be trusted.

I've been back for almost a week and my body still isn't quite back to the Pacific time zone. I've been waking up every morning at 6am and I'm exhausted by the early evening. That thirteen and a half hour time change is pretty rough.

Thanksgiving was great, but I am getting a little of the reverse culture shock. Everything is just so nice here. The roads are smooth, the sidewalks free of trash, the hot water is actually hot, the electricity stays on all the time, I don't get electrocuted when I flip a switch (okay, that only happened once in India, but still), and everything is very clean. I have to say it feels very sterile. Going to India the sights and smells are overwhelming, so coming back the sights and smells are underwhelming, just a faint whiff of this or that.

I've been asked if I would go back, or if I would recommend the places I've been. The short answer: I plan to go back, and you should meet me there. If India seems too intense (for many it really is too intense) go to Nepal. Nepal is now one of my favorite countries in the world. The people, the scenery, the culture, the outdoor activities and the general attitude and feel of the place make it a very special place. With all the tourist centers it's not scary at all (at least compared to India).

As has often been said, India takes a little getting used to, but once you're used to it, it really is fantastic. I'll miss walking down the street, smelling fresh oranges and pomegranates, chai stands on every corner, samosas frying, cows lazily wandering, looking for the next stunning sight to see. I'll miss meeting people from all over the world every day, chatting about traveling, trading stories and comparing beards. I'll miss waking up every morning to a brand new adventure. I don't know why I'm saying I will miss it; I already do.

On the other hand, there are plenty of things I won't miss. I've mentioned some of the things here we take for granted, but really we just take our lifestyles for granted. When we think we have problems here, they're mostly minor things. The reality is that Indians, as well as most of the world, dream of coming to America, and for good reason. They just don't have the opportunity and chances there. Success for many in India is making it to tomorrow, which obviously is a very different mindset to have.

I've uploaded some of the pictures I've taken (I've uploaded less than 400 of my 2800+ photos), so please check them out:

India Part 1


India Part 2

87 days of John

If anyone would like any tips for a trip of their own, please just ask, I feel like I have all this India and Nepal travel knowledge that will just go to waste if I don't share it.

Thank you for reading, I appreciate all the comments (on the blog and elsewhere), I hope you all enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed writing it (I enjoyed living it even more). So with that, this blog is officially finished.



Monday, November 23, 2009

The Last Day

Today is my last day in India. I've been shopping, eating as much as possible, and trying to pass my India knowledge to as many people as possible. Most tourists here are either just arriving or leaving, so I've met a few just arriving and given them some tips.

My flight leaves tonight just before midnight; until then I'll be wandering around, breathing dirty air. The weather is legitimately good, warm in the day, cool at night, so that's been okay.

I'm also excited to shave this crazy beard off. There is a large Muslim population here and I've been asked 3 or 4 times if I'm a Muslim because of my beard. That's definitely a first for me. I also know it's out of hand because I can see it in my shadow, people that I've just met don't recognize me in pictures without it, and my mustache is always getting in my mouth. It needs to end.
I'm sad to leave, but excited to come home. When I get back I'll do one more blog entry with links to lots of photos, so you have that to look forward to.

Well, for now, namaste from India, I will see many of you soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Back to Delhi

I arrived in Delhi today after an almost exactly 24 hour train ride. It wasn't too bad except for the part where I had to share a bed with some Indian guy for a while.

I booked this train a couple of weeks ago, but it's a popular train. I eventually got off the wait list and was booked as "RAC" or reservation against cancelation. It means you're guaranteed a seat, but you may have to share if not enough people cancel. Well, not enough people cancelled. There were other open beds until 2am and starting at 3am, but for that hour or so, we sat across from each other trying to sleep. Anyway, I didn't sleep to well but I did meet and talk to three Canadian people that grew up in India, so that was good.

Delhi is about what I now expected. The pollution is worse than I remember, but the weather is better. The craziness seems less crazy now, but it's still crazier than most places I've been. The pollution really is terrible though. You can practically taste it (although I really can taste the cologne coming off the guy next to me, he must have just dumped the whole bottle on himself).

Anyway, now I go figure out what to do.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aurangabad Day 2 - Ajanta

Yesterday I went over to the Ajanta Caves, over 100km from Aurangabad. Unlike the Ellora Cave tour, which included several other destinations, the Ajanta tour involves driving there, seeing the caves for three hours, eating and driving back. The caves are all Buddhist, and are known for their paintings, as well as the setting. They are set in a crescent shaped ravine, carved into the sheer face of one side, more than 30 in all.

The Ajanta Caves are impressive without even going in. I could spend a couple of hours just wandering around the ravine, admiring the waterfall nearby and the sights in general, but add in ancient paintings, whose various degrees of decay only seem to add to that ancient feeling. The caves themselves are not as impressive as Ellora, but they're still pretty amazing. Three hours there was not optimal, I could have spent a couple more, but it was better than the two hours at Ellora the day before, which was about a third of what I wanted. The timing isn't ideal, but I do need to get to Delhi.
The timing was ideal, however, in that I showed up for World Heritage Week, and got in for free at the Ajanta Caves. That's right, they could have charged tourists the standard 250 rupees (about $5), but they didn't. I couldn't believe it, but I was appreciative.
I should also mention a super random and weird thing they have at the caves. There is a fairly large hill you have to walk up to get to the level of the caves from where the buses drop you off and they have services to help. You can hire a porter (100 rupees, $2), to carry your stuff to the top. The other option, for 400 rupees ($8), is they will carry you in a chair to the top, like an ancient king. I saw a couple of people do this; I'm not sure if they had trouble walking or if they were just rich, but it was crazy. I couldn't believe my eyes at first.

Well now I'm off to catch my train to Delhi. It's about 22 hours, so that'll be fun.