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Separation Anxiety in Delhi

The joys of 10 hour overland travel…heading out of our hotel in Jaipur at 6am to get an auto rickshaw to the train station, get on 6:50am train to Delhi, then once we arrive in Delhi, we fumble about the station trying to figure out how to get from the station, to our hotel. Actually, we needed to get to the train station to the metro station first. After asking for help from the security guards, we figured out the direction we needed to go and hired a bicycle rickshaw. The bicycle rickshaw was crazy! This skinny guy, who must have incredible cardiovascular fitness and really strong leg muscles, hauled the two of us and our two bags on a bicycle-pulled carriage. We felt really really bad when a rude vehicle or person would just pull out or walk in front of our driver, requiring him to brake, thus taking away all his hard-earned momentum.

We got to the metro station and followed the instructions we received from our last hotel. We were going to another hotel owned by the same company, so naturally we had them call the Delhi hotel and get directions for us, which turned out to take us ALMOST to our destination. Almost. It can make a person rather frustrated after traveling for 8 hours, and it’s hot, and we are hungry and thirsty, and have heavy bags, and the directions we relied on to take us to our next haven of air-con, clean bathroom, and cushy bed turns out to take us ALMOST there. The stop on the instructions was 2 stops too soon from the correct stop. After finding wifi at a coffee shop (where we enjoyed the best east-meets-west Indian coffee shop fare for lunch), we called the hotel and found our way there, safe and sound :)

Even though trying to find your way to a place in a different country can be a very interesting (and fun) part of immersing oneself in the culture, it can also be very, very difficult. It’s one of the most stressful things, actually. But in the end, it’s all incredibly worth it!

Yesterday, we hit a couple of the highlights Delhi has to offer. First was Jama Masjid. Built in 1656 by the same emperor that built the Taj Mahal (you can see the similarities, too), it is the largest and most ornate mosque in India.

A view of the black and white domes from the streets of Old Delhi.

Next, we saw Qutab Minar. At least from the outside…we didn’t go in. It is a stone tower 72 meters high built in 1193. At its base is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India.

The railway system in Delhi was rather impressive. It is pretty modern, looks like metros we saw in Singapore and Malaysia, and efficient. But the trains are CROWDED. And noticeably way more men than women. The crowdedness is a bit like Tokyo, but more chaotic as there is no order to standing in lines or the exiting and entering of passengers. You just shove. The metro here is where being a woman is a very good thing. The one car in the front is “Ladies Only”!

Our first day in Delhi, as we were traveling together in the normal part of the train where both men and women can go, I thought “WHY do they feel the need to give women their own car? How silly!” I had negative feelings about it, like maybe it was felt women shouldn’t co-mingle with men or something. Yesterday, I realized the one car for females, labeled at the platform with big pink signs in a pretty font with stars on them, is a luxurious oasis of freely flowing air-con uninhibited by the presence and heat of so many bodies, where more passengers can sit rather than stand, and there is all kinds of room to roam and stretch the legs. The men (along with a few fearless women who decide to cram themselves as well) are crammed like sardines….literally. When I was in the normal section, it wasn’t uncommon to be elbowed in the ribs, stepped on, or pushed to the side into another person. The one car for women is not crowded while the 5 or more regular cars are sardined. And it tended to look about 90% men, maybe more.

About separation anxiety: the unthinkable happened for about 10 minutes…Sean and I got separated. Actually it wasn’t that horrible, but it was a bit scary for a short period. On our way to Jama Masjid via metro, I sat in the sparsely populated “Ladies Only” car, while Sean was down in the very next car (crammed). We discussed and bought one way tickets to Chawri Bazar station. Since our hotel is in the outskirts of Delhi, the metro ride took nearly an hour. We didn’t see each other for most of it as men are not allowed in the women’s car and the men’s section was SO crowded I just stayed in the women’s. We were able to see each other fine at first, but when more women got on, the men were forced out of their seats into the next car, and instead of me going with Sean, we thought it’d be best for me to stay in the women’s section. One thing to mention: when the few more women got on, thus requiring the men to move, it was two scary, soldier-looking police guys with BIG machine guns that prompted the men to move. I was glad the men all jumped up and cleared an entire car for 4 women, because I didn’t want to see what would’ve happened if one decided to be rebellious.

So anyway, we were separated in the train, but that was okay. Problem was I assumed we would each get off the proper stop, and Sean assumed I would go to him first before getting off. Since Sean assumed that, he wasn’t in a position in the train to see the map with LED lights indicating where on the line we were, so he had no idea when we had arrived at the stop. So I got off at our stop. Sean, waiting for me to go to him, did not. A feeling of panic settled in while I was searching for him, and the train left, and he was no where to be found!!! Where is he!? This IS the right stop, right? Isn’t it? Did he get off earlier because he got claustrophobic? Because he emergently needed to use the restroom? Did he think we were supposed to get off at the next one? Did I get off the wrong one? What do I do?!

I realized I had no money, no phone, no way of calling the hotel or emailing Sean (that idea did cross my mind for some reason, as if emailing him would bring us together. No idea why.) I prayed for wisdom and to think clearly, and I knew I had to just stay put. Turned out to be the smart move…er…not-move… After 10 long minutes, his beautiful face popped around the corner. Turns out that two stops down, he told the guards he wanted to talk to his wife and found me not there anymore, so he got off and got back on the opposite train to our proper stop. Whew! First and last time (hopefully) we will get separated. And I don’t want to be without money again, either (this whole time he’s handled the money making it easier to manage, and I would take some with me when I knew I’d be on my own).

One thing we forgot to mention from Jaipur is having dinner with our auto rickshaw driver, Love. Remember him? One night we had him take us to an Indian restaurant recommended by the hotel because it was popular with foreigners. It is also popular with the “rich Indians” crowd, as Love commented. Love would wait for us sitting outside the restaurant while we ate so he could take us home. We thought that was silly when he could be having dinner with us inside, so we invited him in and he joined us. It was a fun experience…everything from him asking us if we would mind if he ate with his hands (how the locals typically eat), to him looking around intently and staring at all the foreigners around him, to sharing he is Muslim. It was a great time and we were glad to have been able to treat him to an early meal (he typically eats at 9 or 9:30pm).

Whew…sorry for the long post…

Today is our last day in India. We leave for Turkey!!! Excitement is in the air for many reasons, especially for our chance to see friends! We’ve enjoyed our time exploring this region (including Nepal) on the other side of the world from home…literally, as the time difference is 11:30. See you on the Mediterranean coast!

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Galavanting with Love

What a fantastic day of exploring Jaipur! From day one of our stay in Jaipur, there was an auto rickshaw driver outside our hotel who jumps at any opportunity to transport us to where we need to go. We hired him for the entire day to take us around the city and show us the highlights. He went by the name Love. :) He called Sean “Michael Jackson,” he called me “Shakira,” (even though he knew our names), and sang an N’SYNC song. He loved talking to us about anything and everything, and it was fun to be exploring the city with him as our trusty driver. Our rickshaw and driver:

Driving here is insane. INSANE!!! So crazy, dangerous, and traffic just flows like water. But the drivers are experts at stopping, evading, and not hitting or getting hit. It’s mesmerizing to be driven. Definitely a huge part of the India experience! Like the other Asian countries we’ve been to, the locals here are experts at moving many individuals on scooters. We saw 5 people on this scooter, there’s another little girl standing at the front of the scooter, blocked by the driver:

5 people! That’s the most we stuff in cars at home. I will not complain about being stuck in the back middle seat again.

We saw Amer Fort, built by Maharaja Man Singh I. A blend of both Hindu and Mughal architecture, the place was massive and we were able to wander throughout the numerous hallways, rooms, and stairways. Lots of pics of hallways and stairs because they were just so cool! There was a huge wall that stretched over the hills, too.

Then we saw Gaitore. It was the rest house for the kings and had beautiful architecture:

Our driver also took us to a textile factory. The end results were beautiful, but the way they designed these fabrics was even more fascinating. They use big wooden plates, like huge stamps:

Dipped in dye:

Then pressed onto cloth to transfer the beautiful image:

They do it with several different stamps to create layers of colors which then create a beautiful picture or design. Here’s the building up of the elephant picture:

Creating more designs by layering stamps:

Creating dresses by sewing beads:

Finished products…beautiful, huh?:

Then we saw Hawa Mahal aka Wind Palace. It was built with holes in windows for ventilation for the women who used to watch the royal march. They watched through the screens in the windows.

Last but not least, we saw Jantar Mantar. It is an astronomical observatory, now a World Heritage Site. Really impressive astronomical development from the medieval period.

Jaipur is known as the Pink City:

And pictures of Jaipur’s Old City:

Camel drawn carts common throughout the city:

Elephants are also around, although I think more for tourists to ride:

And then there are pigs:

One more day in Jaipur, which will be spend relaxing, and then we are off to Delhi.

Thanks for all the comments, too! We love reading them and hearing your thoughts :)

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Varanasi & Agra

So honestly, during our first couple days in India, we felt stressed and overwhelmed. The narrow alleys in which we could easily get lost in if we didn’t pay attention, all the people asking us for our business (even though we know this is their home and livelihood), the sounds, sights, and smells were all sensory overload. It’s the same story in pretty much all the countries we have visited thus far, but it hit us harder than usual here. But we know it just takes getting used to. After a few days of seeing the country, culture (including delicious food!), and interacting with the nice people, we have definitely started enjoying our time here :)

Varanasi is considered to be one of India’s most holy cities. It is believed if one dies in Varanasi, that person is liberated from the cycle of life and death (moksha). They also believe the River Ganges washes away their sins, so Hindu pilgrims come from all over to bathe in it. Another thing Varanasi is famous for are their bathing and cremating ghats. A famous one is called Dashashwamedh Ghat. We were able to see the male family members carry the body of their loved one to the ghat then see the cremation ceremonies being carried out (no pictures are allowed to be taken). Here is the picture of the Ganges from the rooftop of our guesthouse:

Streets and alleyways of Varanasi:

Monkeys always make life interesting, don’t they? We noticed the rooftops of Varanasi were peppered with monkeys throughout the town. One afternoon, Sean noticed a monkey sitting outside our window! And we were staying on the fourth floor, so it was so shocking to see a creature looking in from the ledge of our window. Then the next morning I woke up early to a loud noise, and the monkey was back and slapped the window to wake us up. Here’s a funny photo of the monkey showing its teeth to Sean:

More monkey pics from our hotel:

Yesterday we arrived in Agra after a long 13 hour train ride from Varanasi. It wasn't bad as we were both able to get some sleep, but we did get off the wrong train stop. There are 3 stations in Agra: Raja Ki Mandi, Agra Cantonement, and Agra Fort. We were supposed to get off Agra Cantonement, and even arranged for our hotel to send a driver for pick up. Well, since all the foreigners on the train who were supposed to get off at Agra Cant. didn't know exactly when that was, we were at the mercy of the workers on the train. So when the man said "Agra, Agra...", of course we all got ready to alight...I mean...we were all going Agra, right? Welp, we shoulda stayed on longer for the stop was Raja Ki Mandi. After realizing this outside the station, we called the number of our driver, and you know it's not good (but still very funny) when after we tell the driver where we are, he responds with "Oh my goodness!" (in a heavy Indian accent). Hahaha....just gotta laugh... It was no big deal, he just had to drive further to pick us up.

Agra is where the famous Taj Mahal is. Being able to see this ginormous monument to love was on the top of our list of things we were excited to see. The Taj Mahal!!!!!! It was even bigger and grander in person. It was built by emperor Shah Jahan who built the mausoleum in memory of his third wife who died giving birth to their 14th child. There is a tomb for her inside, as well as the emperor who was placed there when he died. We could only take photos of the exterior. Here are some photos...see how big the little people are at the base of the monument? Yea...it was big.

There was this nice man who insisted Sean get in this “cave” to get a good pic of the Taj Mahal…Sean just went along with it and I laughed:

We also saw the Agra Fort…at least the outside:

A pic of the streets on the way home:

Check out the fancy water bottle holders our hotel has. Now there’s something regal about drinking from a water bottle with this kind of holder:

India is turning out to be a fun place with surprises around every corner. Tonight is our only night in Agra, and tomorrow we get on another train for Jaipur. See you in the Pink City!

One more Taj Mahal photo because it was so amazing:

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Streets of Varanasi

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Maya Devi Temple

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