Monday, March 19, 2007
Camels, cows, colors and turbans!
Click for more fabulous photos of India and the Hindu Wedding.
On our way back to the US from living in Hong Kong, Troy and I stopped in north India for 2 weeks. Troy had been to India for work but I never had a chance to join him. I honestly had not heard a lot of good about India but still wanted to go. It was a great trip but I don't know if I would recommend it for a vacation destination unless you're a little more of a worn traveller and want something off the beaten path. There is an immense amount of filth, trash and poverty. Your eyes actually long for structure and order in the landscape. But like I said, it was great, so enough of the negativity.
Finally in IndiaAfter a horribly delayed flight that routed us to Mumbai instead of Delhi, we finally made it to Delhi almost 24 hours later then we should have. Upon arrival we immediately hit the road with our driver, Mr. Singh, who would be with us for 2 weeks. Our first destination was Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. We've been pretty jaded to different ways of life with our travels, but India was on a whole new level. Gotta love stopping to pay entrance fees to the next state when a old, craggly, toothless man walks up to the car window holding a disgusting snake, with it's belly pressed up to the window and the old man wants 10 Rupees (.25) for you to take a picture of it!
Agra and the TajThe next morning upon arriving in Agra was our visit to the Taj Mahal. After paying 10 Rupees to the guy who held open our car door (another example of the Indian way of life), we were off to visit the world famous mausoleum. The Taj was unbelievably beautiful. It is perfectly balanced in it's design and has incredible contrast with the surrounding green grass, blue sky and opposing red clay mosques. The whole thing is built from marble and the Koran is written upon the building as black inlaid marble. The Taj was built by the Emperor in the mid 1600's for his favorite wife who died during childbirth of their 14th child. It took 16 years to complete. Sadly, the emperor never saw the completion because his son wanted to be king so he overthrew his father and had him imprisoned.
Side note here to Hoyt and Shellie: the Taj we saw didn't have 6 wheels, a mini bar and haul our asses up and down the west coast of North America !
Jaipur and "Holi"Our next destination was Jaipur. We were informed along our drive that the following day was a religious holiday for Hindus which is the majority of Indians. It was their Festival of Holi or otherwise known as the Festival of Colors where they literally throw color on each other in celebration. Mr. Singh said there would be no sightseeing since all of the palaces and forts would be closed for the day. We were further instructed that foreigners (us) were not to leave the hotel and the hotel would provide activities for the day. Troy and I were not happy about this. For one, we don't want to sit at a hotel all day. Second, it's a huge holiday for the Hindus and we wanted to see what it was all about. The next morning - the day of the festival - we talked to several other guests at the hotel and found out everyone was told the same thing. "Don't go out, it is dangerous for foreigners, there will be no police out to help you, you will get hurt, etc, etc." Even liberal guide books like Lonely Planet discouraged foreigners from leaving the sanctuary of their hotel. Well...Troy and I thought about it... and the next thing we knew, after being promised by our rickshaw driver we would be safe, we were in a motorcycle rickshaw off to the see how the locals celebrate Happy Holi. The entire time we're thinking "What are we doing?"
It was all good. Nothing bad happened to us, we were safe the entire time, the streets were relatively empty and everyone was out drunk and having a great time. We had to get into the spirit of things and got "Holied" ourselves. A man approached us with bags full of color powder and politely asked us if he could "holi" us upon which we said yes. Next thing I know we have green, blue, purple and yellow powder all over us, in our hair, down our shirts and in our ears! It was actually very cool, especially how the locals reacted to us after seeing that we took part in their holiday.
The next day, we quickly took in the sights we missed from the previous day then were on our way to Khimsar. We ended the day at our 500 year old fort hotel and watched the sunset over the small town of Khimsar while enjoying a few beers. The next day we were to start our camel safari and wanted a little relaxation since we didn't know how rough the next few days would be.
Osian and the CamelsThe following morning was a quick drive to Osian where we met up with our camels and guides. The camel safari ended up being the best part of our trip. My camel was named Tela and Troy's was Rata. Their personalities and demeanor was very interesting especially since we have never been around camels before. As soon as they saw another camel, they started to gurgle, blurble, bubble, foam, roar, fart and grind their teeth. They basically became a mess with the foaming at the mouth and them pissing and pooping and their tail flicking this nastiness around to mark their territory. Troy's was especially moody when it came to other camels. He wasn't happy when they came and he wasn't happy when they were gone. He was a big boy too (the camel, not Troy) so we didn't dare get around him when he was acting up (I don't dare get around Troy when he is acting up, either!). Good thing he was Troy's camel and not mine.
One of the things that amazed us on the camel safari was lunch. We thought we would stop for 20 minutes, eat some gross sandwiches then be on our way. It was actually a 3 hour lunch with everything, including the chipati bread, made from scratch. First we started out with Indian Chai tea made with fresh ingredients including goats milk that was squirted from the goat who happened to be passing by our lunch spot. The guides proceeded to make vegetarian curry, spicy dhal soup and chipati from scratch. In between all this cooking, the guides would have to run off approaching stray camels that were trying to get near our camels. I suppose Troy and I could have done that for the guides but most likely the camels would have come chasing after us instead of the other way around - which, now that I think of it, would have made a good story!
The camel safari was really amazing. Gemar started his business - HaCRA - to help bring tourism revenue to his part of the desert. He is a gifted entrepreneur and we would very highly recommend his services if you are ever planning on visiting India. Check out the HaCRA website!
The Surprise Hindu WeddingAs our day was ending, our guide, Gemar, asked us if we "would mind" going to a wedding with him. His distant uncles cousin was getting married and it was to be a very important occasion with very important people and he wanted to go and was hoping we would go with him. Troy and I jumped at the chance to attend a traditional Hindu Indian wedding in the middle of the desert. Let me tell you, this was something of an experience. The only building structure at the wedding was the brides parents small home. Tents, generators and cots were trucked in for the 100's of guests that were attending. As soon as we got out of the car, we were surrounded by people wanting to see who we were. Right away I noticed that people wouldn't talk to me, only Troy. I found out later that in the Indian culture, it is rude to talk to the female without the males permission. So while Troy is getting bombarded from every direction with people wanting to say hi, shake his hand or practice their English, I am in my own little world with no one talking to me and actually giving me a 3' space around me. People were very welcoming to us but it was overwhelming.
The Hindu ceremony is a very serious ceremony for the couple but is just a mish mash, hodge podge of activity with all the guests. There was no rhyme or reason for what was going on. Of course since we didn't understand what was going on with the ceremony it was even more chaotic to us. One of the funny things I will always remember is shortly after we entered the courtyard where the elaborately dressed groom is sitting. There are two cameramen with bright lights filming the groom. Somehow they found out we were there. They immediately whipped around and turned the cameras and lights on us. Talk about two deer’s in headlights. I can only imagine what the bride and groom will think afterwards seeing this film. "Who the hell are those white people???"
During part of the ceremony, the groom entered the house to join the bride. The bride never leaves the house and the only people who see her are her immediate family. Even when the groom enters she is covered head to toe by her bridal Saree (Indian dress) and he can't see her face. Of course, we were dragged - not kicking and screaming - into this part of the ceremony which we thought was strange since only family was allowed in, never mind two white people who clearly don't belong there. The most uncomfortable point was when we were placed against a wall directly across from the groom who is maybe 10' from us. He looks directly at us and you can only imagine what is going through his mind! Troy and I tried are hardest to blend in to the locals but somehow we just couldn't!
After 45 minutes of this, we decided to get something to eat. Big mistake. There are probably 5 tables then tarps on the ground for people to sit and eat. With our guide, we get a plate of food all the while looking at it thinking, "We will be sick tomorrow!". The only place to sit was on the ground, so as soon as the three of us sit, we are surrounded by about 20 men, standing, watching us eat. We tried to ignore them but we just couldn't with all these men towering over us while we ate. We immediately found a table where the same group followed us and stood around the table. It was shortly after that when we told Gemar that we had enough. But we must thank Gemar for a great experience!
Driving home, we gave a ride to some of Gemar's neighbors. So about 12 people piled into this little Toyota Land Cruiser. I felt like I was back in high school on my way to a kegger party on Friday night. Although my friends in high school didn't have thick moustaches, wear turbans and speak Hindi.
The next day we finished our camel safari then headed to Phalodi where the local Indian boys called the dogs Indian Donkeys. After a night in Phalodi we stopped in Keechan Village to watch the early morning arrival of thousands and thousands of Demoisell Cranes come to feed. These cranes have been coming for over 150 years and the villageers feel the cranes bring them good karma.
The Golden City of JaisalmerWe then headed to Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is known as the golden city since most buildings are carved from yellow sandstone. At this point we are a mere 40 miles from the Pakistan Border so throughout Jaisalmer are Security Border Force camps. Our hotel was across the street from the Indian Air Force base so every morning and evening we could hear the jet fighters leave and return to their base. Our second evening in Jaisalmer, we went to a desert dinner where we were only 25 miles from the Pakistan border (oh the things we do to give our parents heart attacks)! After 2 days in Jaisalmer we went to Jodphur then our last stop was Udaipur.
The Trip Has to EndThere were so many things we saw on a constant basis that still amazed us every time we saw it: Little boys and girls on the side of the road pooping and waving hello as you pass; Men sleeping anywhere and everywhere; Cows anywhere and everywhere - Hindus believe in 1000's of Gods and they believe that cows are the homes to the Gods so cows are very sacred. We were constantly getting stuck between a cart and a cow, getting slimed by cow boogers, walking down a dark street and nearly tripping on one. Not being able to get into a store because a big cow is laying on the doorstep. At any given time throughout our trip we were dodging dogs, sheeps, cows, goats, monkeys, peacocks, camels, elephants, and pigs. I also couldn't believe we didn't get poopy sick. We ate at some very dodgy places with rats in the ceiling, little boys on their hands and knees scrubbing the floor, flies everywhere (there are nicer places, but what fun is that?). Hong Kong must have toughened up our stomachs.
One of the most amazing things to see amongst all the filth, poverty and trash were these Indian women in their fantastically bright colored Sarees. Doesn't matter if their getting water from the well, doing road construction, working the field. These dresses are what they wear every single day. It was such a contrast to the brown, drab surroundings. Another thing that took us by surprise was when we stopped on the side of the road for tea and were offered opium by the tea guy. We didn't know what was in the little bag until he started handing out small spoons and our driver told us what it was. We immediately handed back our spoons, a little freaked out. Of course everyone laughed at us. They're probably thinking "Stupid white people, don't know when they're being offered free drugs!"