March 14, 2009

India, Travel

When I went through security I was told that I got a seat upgrade (again!). I think that it may have to do with the fact that I have a points card – I checked in with Allison’s card number so that she could get my extra points…I didn’t have a card, so I figured I might just as well! However, if that is the reason that I have got these two upgrades, I am definitely going to get a BA points card for my next BA flight! J
It was a long flight home…I guess traveling half way around the world would do that, eh?!


March 13, 2009

India, Travel, Uncategorized
Another Friday the 13th!!! Nothing too dramatic happened today, however, so that is a good thing!!
We had an amazing tour today. Probably the best we’ve had thus far, actually. Ohhh…but, to regress…the breakfast at this hotel was superb! It had huge variety of everything and even had brown bread! Anyway, back to the tour. We had this petite little lady as our guide who was a wealth of information. And, she knew that we had had enough of temples and forts, so adapted our schedule to show us other sites! It was excellent.
After the Gateway to India and the Taj hotel stop, we went past the train station that was also attacked during the November attacks. The architecture was such that it seemed as though we had changed continents and were in Europe! There is definitely a strong English past here!! The university was just as beautiful. We weren’t able to go into either of these two places, but they were probably more interesting from the outside, in any case! We then stopped at the market, and it was very interesting. It was a food market and lots of different things for sale. Mangos are just coming into season, so mom was going nuts. Mom and dad actually bought a bunch of oranges and mangos to take with them to Goa! There were fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, candy, meat, and a pet market within the market! It made me really sad to see the cute little puppies in their little metal cages. There are so many dogs here, I don’t know how they all survive, really. They need a Bob Barker to come and start enforcing spaying and neutering their dogs!!
We headed through the city to do a drive by of the Jain temple. The highest population of Jains live in Mumbai and they own, exclusively, the diamond market in the country! They are very wealthy people! Another interesting population in the city is the Parsis. They almost all live in Mumbai (9/10 in the world) and are the individuals who believe in Zoroastrianism – the elements earth, fire, and water. Due to this, they have an interesting way of disposing of their dead. They cannot bury their dead because they worship the earth. They cannot burn their dead because they worship fire. Instead, they place their dead on a mesh covering a deep well. Then, they ring a bell and vulchers come and eat the dead bodies. When there are only bones left, the bones are disposed of into the well!! This population is also very wealthy and in India owns the TATA empire – which controls a lot of the businesses – the name is everywhere! However, because they can only marry within their religion in order to stay part of the religion, the population is quickly diminishing. We had the chance to drive by both the Parsis fire temple and the towers of silence (where the wells and vulchers are). The towers of silence are the only ones in the world!
Then we went to Churchgate Station to see the Dabawalas! It was an amazing thing to see!! The system is the following: Hot lunches that are made at home are picked up by one man and taken to the nearest train station on a plank with about 50 other similar tiffans. The man slides the plank into the train, where it will be picked up by another man at the central Churchgate Station. He then does this thing called “shuffling”, where they reorganize the hundreds of tiffans into regional locations depending on where the person is working. A third person then takes the plank and delivers the food to the workplace! I don’t remember the numbers of people that rely on this service DAILY, but it is an astronomical number. And, the Dabawalas, or “lunch box men” are 99.999% accurate! It is a profession that is handed down from father to son and has been in place for over 160 years! It was a phenomenal sight to be seen!
Afterwards, we headed to Gandi’s house. We had more time here than we did at the Gandi memorial in Delhi. There was an interesting diorama depicting his life over the years. I didn’t know that he wrote a letter to Hitler, right before WWII broke out – so that was my interesting piece of acquired information!
Then, we went to the Dobi men – the washing men. Another amazing sight! The laundry services are done by hand, in a generational profession, located in a slim-like area. The washing area looks like a series of cubicles that are partially filled with water. On the back edge, there is a stone ledge that is used for beating the clothes. Heavy-duty scrub brushes are used to get the marks out of the hems of pants and other trouble areas. I don’t really know how to describe what I saw because it was so mind boggling. Men would wet clothes in the water in the bottom of the cell/cubicle and then beat it on the stone in front of them. They would twist the clothing to wring it out before sticking it into a twisted rope to hang to dry. Another amazing system of organization exists here, as the clothes are not labelled or marked in any obvious way, yet the dobi man manages to take clothes from hundreds of homes and clean them and return them to their rightful owners with amazing precision. They have memories like elephants in this country. I did take some video of this because I just didn’t know how to describe it, so that is a bonus!
After the tour was complete, we headed back to our respective hotels to have a snack and go shopping!! We all had rupees to get rid of, so it was not stressful but fun shopping! We hit FabIndia again so that the other two girls could make their necessary purchases.
For dinner, we went to cafe Leopold – another site that was attacked during the November attacks! You could still see the broken windows and bullet holes in the walls! It was a little much, really…but apparently it is even more popular now than it was before the attacks! Go figure!!
Well, I am now on the plane…with an annoying guy sitting next to me. I don’t have any elbow room at all because my space is being invaded! Perhaps I will get an upgrade from Heathrow to Toronto. I could totally go for that. There are still many hours of flying to come…

March 12, 2009

India, Travel, Uncategorized
We had the morning to kill before our 2pm flight, so we headed back to the market because we all felt kind of ripped off from our mini visit two days ago when we had our tour. It was nice because mornings here start slowly. By the time we got into town, it was about 10am, and the vendors were just starting to unwrap their stalls and wheel in their huge carts full of veggies and bangles and spices. I like mornings here because of the slow waking-up of the city! It is also a nice way to get accustomed to the crowds and chaos because it slowly gets more intense – like boiling a frog in water; it doesn’t hop out if it is put into the pot when the water is cold initially!!
Allison was on a mission! She needed spices, pots, bangles, and tea. Caroline wanted another sari, and Scott and I were there for the ride. I ended up buying some tea – typical chai is probably a good thing to buy here! I just liked wandering around!
We took a tuc-tuc back to the hotel and got ready to hop into the van to head to the airport to go to Mumbai! We sure have a lot of baggage…and we were not quite sure what the allowance was – the “head wobble” concept confused us when we asked when we checked in at the Pune airport. In any case, we were potentially going to be over weight….my two bags totalled 27Kg…
The airports here are an interesting experience! They check boarding cards and passports about 6 times before actually making it to the airplane! Firstly, walking into the airport itself you have to show your ticket reservation or boarding card as well as your passport. Then, your checked baggage gets scanned and zip-tied – where you have to show the documents again. Afterwards, the actual check-in happens. However, instead of only putting one person’s bags on the scale at a time, they piled all four people’s bags on the scale! Here is where we lucked out big time. Because there were three girls in our group, plus Scott, the guys at the check-in desk could/would only talk to Scott! However, Scott was delayed in getting his bags zip-tied, so we had already started checking in. So, when our bags were overweight (it was a limit of 25Kg per person!), they whispered it under their breath without really looking at us girls or addressing the issue! When Scott came over, one of the guys went over to him and whispered “the limit is 25Kgs”. They didn’t say anything about us actually being overweight!! Fortunately Scott ignored the guy and we finished getting our passports back and checked in without any real problems!! 😉 They check out documents three times more between security, the door out to the tarmac, and while boarding the plane! At security, the lines are segregated for men and women and they do a very thorough check of each person! The girls are screened in an enclosed area, by a female security guard and the guys are screened in the open by a male security guard. It is quite the process!!
The flight was uneventful, which is always nice, I suppose! Getting off the plane in Mumbai was like walking into a steam room! The heat and the humidity were phenomenal! I think it was only about 36°C, but that sure didn’t account for the humidity! We all got our bags and were met by the perfect travels dude with no problems.
It was quite the drive to the centre of Mumbai. The population of that city alone is approximately half of the population of Canada! Isn’t that incredible! It is really quite mind boggling! Our hotel was located about one block away from the Gateway to India (I believe…I get the names of the two gates in Mumbai and Delhi confused!) and the Taj Hotel that was bombed November 26, 2008. It was close to the water and very centrally located to shopping and the major sites, which was a bonus. I didn’t see mom and dad’s hotel, but it was further away from the shopping areas, so the few times that we met up to do things together, they ended up coming to our hotel and continuing on from there.
After a brief check-in and snack we headed down the waterfront from our hotel (the Faryias…I’d stay there again, if I ever get to Mumbai again!) to see the Gateway to India, the Taj and the shopping areas! The other two girls were determined to get to FabIndia for present and scarf purchases, so it was an excellent walking pace (finally) to reach our destination. Mumbai seems to be more tourist friendly than Delhi was. There were minimal touts in our faces and less people to step over. There were actual sidewalks that were being used for their actual purpose. It seemed to me that there were more beggars, but perhaps that comes with the incredible size of the city. I really do like Mumbai.
We made it to FabIndia only about 15 minutes before it closed, unfortunately. It was fine for me because I was in it for the walk more than anything!! Hopefully we’ll have time after our tour tomorrow to go again so that the other two girls can get what they need to buy. On the way back we stopped into a cafe on the shopping strip – and it was excellent! I got a bottle of water, a can of pop, and a chicken pizza for less than 5$ Cdn! Isn’t that awesome! Then, afterwards, on the walk back to the hotel, I got a MacDonald’s ice cream cone for 10 Rs – so about 25 cents!! London is going to be expensive!
Tonight is our last night in India!! Last day tomorrow…I don’t feel like I’ve really spent four weeks here! It is amazing!!



March 11, 2009

India, Travel, Uncategorized
Today was the festival of Holi! It was also my birthday…which is actually kind of cool that the two fell on the same day! Because of the festival, it was highly recommended that we didn’t go out into the streets, as Holi tends to get a little out of control. It is the festival of colour. People use all different colours – red, blue, green, yellow, purple, pink – and put them on each others’ faces and clothes! I think that it was normally supposed to be dry powder, however it gets crazy and toxic paints, acid, and led are used. Even our guides told us that it is pretty much an excuse for the male population (especially) to get as publically drunk as possible and touch girls! Soooo….we decided to stay in the hotel!
All four of us in my hotel went to mom and dad’s hotel for the day because they had the amazing hotel! It was actually quite nice. We arrived there around 8:30 and the hotel had a “safe Holi” for those who wanted to participate! It turned out to only be us six plus two key staff…but then we got more staff involved as the time wore on! No other tourists wanted to participate, but it was sure fun! We were all very full of colour! It was a good excuse to ruin clothes I didn’t want to carry home anyway!
After playing Holi for a while, we attempted to play a very tame game of volleyball, however, being the athletic group that we are (not), it was rather unsuccessful! Then, the staff taught us to play cricket! The language barrier created some problems in the understanding process…but I do now have a better idea of what the game is about! It was fun to learn here, where the sport is so important!
Mom and I did work outs (in their beautiful exercise room) before relaxing by the pool with the rest of the group for a large part of the day. My family is pretty used to the sun and being by the pool, and I know how much sun I can handle – however, the other three didn’t do so well with the sun concept – Allison and Scott got pretty burned! I feel awful about it because when you’re not used to doing the pool thing it is hard to judge the sun….uggg…I hate sunburns!
Anyway…we stayed by the pool until 3pm, when we had my little birthday celebration! The hotel made me a cake and brought it out to the pool for us! And, this morning, my crew surprised me with a tub of chocolate ice cream that they bought last night when they went out! There were no candles in the hotel here (for the first time!), so they lit a match and stuck it upside down in the tub of ice cream! It was great!!! We brought the ice cream over to mom and dad’s place so we could eat it with the cake! Now, this is the kicker…the cake that the hotel made me was a PINEAPPLE cake! What are the chances?! At least I had ice cream – and, apparently, the cake was pretty good! J
The other three headed back to our hotel for a few hours before meeting us at a restaurant that was located half-way between our two hotels. Because it was a holiday, there were limited restaurant options. We went to a place called “On the Rocks”…we had a reservation for 7pm (that the hotel made), however, when we got there we were told several different things including that the restaurant wasn’t going to be open at all!! It was funny/annoying. The tendency here is to agree even though they don’t understand or know where you are talking about or speak the same language at all! It can be funny because the “head wobble” really means all of that combined…but a straight answer would be a nice change!!
We did get into the restaurant eventually…not without purchasing a couple of scarves in the shop next door in the mean time, however! I had better decide that I am going to wear scarves with everything when I get home! I have about 20 now, I think!!
The food was good,,.no complaints. I am not eating chicken and rice for a long time after I get home! 😉

P.S. Mom and dad gave me a card that everyone had signed…and in it were two pictures of what my B-Day presents were! I got a new set of BEAUTIFUL pots and pans from mom and dad and grandpa gave me an Electrolux car vacuum thing (that I am sure is in better shape than the vacuum I have in my house!

March 10, 2009

India, Travel, Uncategorized
We just said goodbye to Rajish and the helper guy (perhaps his name is Mono…we never really did get his name!), and it was kind of sad! We’ve had an excellent couple of weeks with them, and it was sad to say goodbye! I guess we were lucky to get such a nice driver who also managed to speak excellent English, have great restaurant and shopping recommendations, and who knew how to navigate the crazy roads here with superb skill!
The drive today was quite speedy. The roads through the desert were strait and easy. The most we had to do was stop because there was a (very cute) donkey standing in the middle of the road! And, we also stopped to take a few pictures of camels that were eating from the trees. I really do like camels! It is so cool too look over on the side of the road and see a few camels reaching to eat the bottom branches of the flat trees.
We stopped on the side of the road so that dad could get some more sand for mom and my collections. Then, Allison had the brilliant idea of climbing up the sand doons! It was awesome! I had to go and put on pants before attempting the climb, but it was totally worth it. It wasn’t too big of a sand doon, but totally exhausting climb because it was pretty much two steps forward, one step back! Running down the powder-soft sand was great. It was a nice little break.
We got to Jodhpur around 2pm and dealt with check in and all that good stuff before our tour started at 3pm. We had to have the tour this afternoon because the festival of Holi is tomorrow, so everything will be closed. Apparently it is going to be too ‘dangerous’ for us to go out in the streets, as well, so we are all going to mom and dad’s hotel for our own Holi celebration instead! It will be interesting!
Firstly, we headed up to the Jaswant Thada. It was a tomb built by Maharaja Jaswant Singh II in 1899 (although that info is conflicting from what I heard today during the tour…I heard that a wife built for her diseased husband – so perhaps, it was constructed for the Maharaja). Afterwards, it became the royal crematorium. It is beautiful and has a wonderful view of the city below.
The fort is the main sight of the city. It was absolutely breathtaking. The Meherangarh is still run by the Maharaja of Jodphur. Although this man has no power since India became independent, he is well respected in the city and lives in a beautiful, domed palace that can be seen from the fort. The fort is located on top of a 125m hill and is pretty much solid red and pink sandstone. The stone work in the upper levels of the fort is carved with such detail that it looks like it is wood. It is unbelievable that it is stone. The majority of the fort is now a museum, although some of the people working in the museum actually live on the premises. The fort had fantastic views of the city, as well…the city is called the blue city because in the old parts the houses of the Brahman class were painted blue. Still, today, there is a significant portion of homes that are blue.
The clock tower and market area was the last area that we visited. Everyone was pretty tired by this point and no one wanted to be guided around to wherever the guide wanted to take us. It is aggravating because we kind of wanted to spend more time there, but because of the festival of Holi the guide and Rajish didn’t want to leave us there. I’m sure in a group we would have been fine, but I’m guessing their boss wouldn’t have liked it if they left us there. It was unfortunate, because there could have been some interesting things to see down in the market! Although, I know that the six of us can’t shop together anyway…and no one really wants to shop anymore, anyway…so, it was probably all for the best!
Now, the three others have headed out to find dinner and I am going to bed. Bed triumphs over eating any day!

March 9, 2009

India, Travel, Uncategorized

We had a simple breakfast this morning before heading out on our tour of the city. I have started bringing my little jar of peanut butter to breakfast with me because I only have 5 days to use it up! And, the protein is a nice change from eggs. Remind me not to buy any eggs when I am doing groceries next Sunday!!
We headed to the lake first. It was interesting because the main gate into the lake was constructed by a woman – back many years ago. And, because the King let her construct the gate, he was taunted. He was going to go destroy the gate, but in the mean time, the lady changed the gate into a temple (by putting a small statue of Krishna by the gate and worshipping it all night long). This meant that the King couldn’t destroy the temple! To this day, no King has walked through the gate!! A small, secondary gate was constructed for him to access the lake.
The pond is very low right now, and because of this there is a very, very high concentration of catfish!!! It was a very weird sight to see! We got a loaf of bread to feed these catfish and they came by the hundreds – swimming right up to the shore, huge mouths open, on top of each other….ugggg….it was really weird and kind of creepy! Before the lake dries up every year, the government comes and relocates the fish. Then, after the lake fills up during the monsoon season, they put the fish back in the lake so that they will eat the mosquito larvae!
We then went up to the car park just below the main entrance to the fort. We walked up the steep ramp into the main area of the fort. It was a very nice fort, and much different than the other forts we have visited thus far because this is the first one where people actually live within the walls of the fort and it isn’t just all museum. It was nice to wander through the narrow, shady streets and see how people are living and what they are selling – much less pressure than some of the other areas we have visited. Perhaps I am just getting used to it?!
Our guide was rather chatty, which was nice. Personal stories always add so much to the tour! There wasn’t too much to actually explain or show us, except the Jain temple (which was very innately carved, but less spectacular to the one we saw previously in Ranakpur. We continued to wander, stopping at a couple of stores here and there. We went into this ring store and I didn’t do so well. It was an amazing store, where the guys carved these intricate designs in silver rings. I immediately fell in love with this ring that has the seven man-made world wonders carved into it. It didn’t fit! Of course…then I got all stressed because I was holding up the tour as we waited for the brother to come with another ring…and then they worked away at it for a while to make it bigger…and I got even more stressed…and there were tears…and I hate making decisions! By that point I didn’t want the ring at all (mom had already bought the same one in her size) and I couldn’t make any decisions, so we left and continued on with the tour. I went back later in the afternoon with Allison and bought the ring, however. It is really cool. I think it could be just a touch bigger – but it is really hot here, so it will probably be the right size once I get home! Anyway, it is neat. And, I do like it. Duh.
We looked at a few more buildings and architecture stuff around the old fort and in areas of the new fort before ending the tour. Mom, dad, and Scott went back to their respective hotels and Allison and I stayed in town to look around some more. We looked at a few skirts and scarves, but didn’t end up buying anything. We stopped in at this very Western-run restaurant and had amazing apple pie and ice cream. Allison also had this mango smoothy – made purely from mangos. It looked great, but I am not really a mango fan! It was nice to take another look around the fort and get a few last pictures before heading back to the hotel. It was a fun fort to wander around in, because there was pretty much one main road, and there were hardly any tourists, or locals, for that matter. Nice and quiet.
I got my palm read by some random Indian lady here today when Allison and I were walking around the fort…it was rather interesting – apparently I am going to have a long life and won’t need any surgeries or serious medical attention. I have issues making my heart and my mind agree on things. In order to rectify this problem, I need to wear rainbow colours (ie in a bracelet). In about 12-18 months a guy will find me and he will be prettier … Read Moreand taller than I am. I will be able to have 3 children, should I so chose. And, I am supposed to drink minimally as this will interfere with my decision making processes.
We hung out at the hotel for a bit before heading off on our camel ride! The ride was rather disappointing, unfortunately. I am glad that I didn’t pay extra for it, because I would have been angry. We got on our camels outside of the hotel here and headed up the highway into town. We turned and went up another highway-like road and stopped at the top! It was only really a 45 minute ride, which would have been fine if we hadn’t just walked on the concrete! I wanted to do some camel riding in the desert!! It was fun, however…just not as desert-y as I would have liked!
At the end point, we went into a crematorium because there were excellent sun-set pictures! I think many of the tourists in town were there to take pictures…only in India can they charge you money to walk into a cemetery-like area in order to see the sun set! (Well, I am sure there are other countries, but this was my first!) It was very pretty, but the sunset in Pushkar over the lake far outshone this sun set!
We went for dinner earlier because I think we were all tired – and I know I was hungry! We went to this little rooftop place that Rajish suggested. We tried to get him to eat with us, but he wouldn’t. He did, however come up and have a pop with us before our dinners came. They tend to eat really late here – around 9:30, 10pm! I guess that is why everything opens up just that much later in the morning as well…they have to sleep at some point! Apparently, the food was excellent at this restaurant. I guess I should specify – the Indian food was excellent. I had a grilled cheese, and I thought that was superb! I am pretty much done with Indian food, having tried all of the necessary dishes!! No complaints at all regarding my meal, however…it definitely hit the spot!
Now, back at the hotel, we have free wireless happening…so everyone is busy checking up on bills and e-mails!! It is our first (and probably last) free internet. Tomorrow is going to be a long day…and I am really tired (for doing nothing much!), so I should probably head to bed!

March 8, 2009

India, Travel, Uncategorized
We are definitely in the desert now! The drive changed the landscape dramatically and we left the hills and mountains behind and drove mostly on a straight road with flat desert surrounding us! It is very cool, actually. I’d imagined more of India to look like this, to be honest, so I am glad that I got out here to the desert to see it!
Not long after we got going, Rajish stopped to tell us that there was a good textile shop. Of course, we had to stop, and there were interesting things to see! The prices were more or less the same, and the quality was “same, same”, but interesting none the less. Mom got attached to a scarf…decided she didn’t want it. We headed back to the van, however, the guy selling the scarf followed us out to the van and started negotiating through the window! He finally came down to the price that we said was the maximum that we would pay, and mom and I got out of the (moving) van to go buy her scarf! Go figure!
We headed along our way, and drove through the middle of this huge market – located in the middle of nowhere. People from villages and surrounding areas meet in this spot to sell wholesale supplies to others. It was a very interesting experience, and I am glad that we stopped (I think Rajish also wanted to stop because he actually did some shopping of his own). It was a nice taste of what locals buy in their markets, because there were definitely no tourists there! The quantities of chillies were the most amazing part – they were literally being sold by the truck load. There were tents and tents of chillies. The scales are pretty fantastic, as well. They are the old-fashioned kind where the two sides balance out with weights and the product being sold. Very interesting.
It seemed as though Jaisalmer popped out of the middle of nowhere. We got there much more quickly than anticipated, because the road was quite empty and very straight. Other than passing many army vehicles and tanks going back from the Pakistan boarder, there weren’t too many vehicles. Mom and dad’s hotel looks like the fort itself! It is a ways East of the city, and is built out of the yellow sandstone, as is our hotel. We are located on the opposite side of the city, with a similar looking hotel. Jaisalmer is called the Gold city because of the colour of the sandstone used everywhere in construction.
Our hotel is nice and quiet. Almost too quiet, actually. We were told that tourism is down here at the moment because of the unrest at the borders. We are only about 60Km away from Pakistan, which is pretty close when there is unrest. The city depends entirely on tourism as its source of income, as there is nothing else really happening in the desert. And, because of its proximity to Pakistan, and the problems there, no company wants to start factories or other large-scale projects here. That being said, there are wind turbines – and we all (we meaning my family) got pretty excited when we saw those out in the desert!
We spent the afternoon in the hotel, reading and sitting by the pool. Because we are located outside of the fort (which is good…because the fort is slowly disintegrating because of the numbers of people living in the fort and the strain in which this is putting on the plumbing systems), it was too far to head in for only a couple of hours. It was a nice break to just chill out and read – I am getting into my book by this point! J
We did go into town for dinner, however, as mom found a “Little Italy” in the Lonely Planet. We didn’t think it was the same one as we had visited before, and it wasn’t. However, it was excellent food, an excellent price, with an excellent view! Caroline is sick, so didn’t join us, but I think Scott had enough food to feed a few people, so he brought some back for her. Hopefully she is feeling better for the camel ride tomorrow!
We found some internet, which was nice…but the @ sign didn’t work and the typing delay was so long that it took a good five minutes to catch up with what I had said…but better than nothing, I suppose! I think there may be internet in the hotel here, but the connection isn’t fantastic either. We shall see!!