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Adventures in Hindustan

a travel blog by Drie

I'm studying abroad in INDIA! This is to keep you all updated (and hopefully entertained) about my adventures in this awesome country. I hope to read your responses and comments.
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ohhh traveling

Denver, United States

So today is the big day (yes, christmas eve, but I mean my semester abroad.) It felt strange getting up this morning know it would be at least 4 monthes before I'd wake up in the US again.
I will be leaving today from Denver with my Mum and Dad in tow heading to Heathrow. We'll be meeting my sister (who lives in Delaware) there. The funniest thing is that none of us will have our cell phone and I swear we spent 45 minutes on the phone yesterday trying to figure out how we were gonna meet up in the airport without them!
We will then be spending a very jolly or simply very expensive three days in the great city of London. If I haven't already shared this story with you, the buses AND the tube shutdown christmas day. Thus, we will spend 45 pounds ($90) for a 14 mi ride from the airport! For my family that kinda money dropped on ground transport is about as rare as us dropping money on the super bowl.
I have a spiffy new backpackers backpack for checking (28 Ib), my laptop (8 Ib), and my daybag (6 Ib.). All in all less than one of the bags I bring home from college weigh. Pray I didn't forget something vital.
Well, that's all. Hopefully, my blogs will be a bit more interesting once my travels actually begin.
Cheerio and Happy Christmas Eve

permalink written by  Drie on December 24, 2007 from Denver, United States
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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rubbish, and wine and mince meat pie, oh my

London, United Kingdom

So it is now our third day here in London. What I enjoy doing is reveling in the many subtle differences between this country and our own. On the way from Heathrow we had a Polish driver who claimed that the few Americans he met were far friendlier than Londoners. Luckily, in our experience this was far from true. We found all our contacts with the British to be friendly and cordial.
In fact, a family friend's friend invited us over to dinner with them all. We had a meal which I have imagined as a true Italian meal. We had no less than 5 courses, 3 types of wine (and many more bottles), with at least half hour period of leisure between each one. We also got introduced to mince mea pie and a little British tradition of crackers which are not food but little party wrappers that you pull apart with a loud crack. Inside are little presents, jokes, and paper hats.
Going back to the beginning: we arrived around 10 AM London time after a fairly pleasant flight (or as pleasant 9 hours in cramped seat can be) through the night. The city greeted us with weather the Scottish like to call 'dreak.' It rained all Christmas day. We fought to stay awake in intervening hours, going to evensong in the Westminster Abbey (built in 1060!), and then walking down the equivalent of Capital hill, Whitehall, until we reached Big Ben and Eye of London along the Thames. On the walk home I felt I was going to fall asleep walking in rain and cold! I guess going 24 hours with 3 hours of sleep doesnt work for me.
Since then, we have gone to see the changing of the Guard at Buckingham-Pretty much a nonevent except for the absolutely huge and gorgeous horses the policemen ride about ot keep order in the crowds. Today, we saw the Victoria and Albert museum, a giant collection of 3d art objects with more than 12 miles of corridors filled! Also today we went to the London Museum which is, as they say, the greatest collection stolen treasure in the world, containing among other amazing treasures the Rossetta Stones and the original sculptures of the Parthenon. Tomorrow morning we leave already heading for our true destination: Hindustan.
My favorite things from London: they call it 'rubbish' instead of trash, they say 'mind the gap' on the subway, they drive smart cars, all the major intersections have signs on the ground saying 'look left' or 'look right' so us silly tourists from the other side of the road don't step into traffic, people's general friendliness, and of course the accents.
My dislikes from London: the constant frigid grey weather, everything costs money and twice as much in the US (including cup of water .90 p), constant crowds everywhere worse than NY, the tubes close randomly on boxing day leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere.

permalink written by  Drie on December 27, 2007 from London, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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many MANY travels

Delhi, India

Time moves at a different rate when you enter a truly foreign country. Or perhaps its just constant moving about. That is, its warped between making you feel like you've been here for forever and just stepped off the airplane. And we have done a lot of stepping off planes in the last 24 hours. We got up around 7:00 to get to Heathrow airport in order to fly the 7-1/2 hours to Delhi. There were no less than 5 crying babies in our section of the plane. I'm sure some of you know and truly trying that was for me. Once in Delhi we waited in line (at 4:30AM Indian time), constantly harassed by taxi drivers, for the free bus to the domestic flight terminal. When a 2nd one came (the first was too full and left without us) and hour later we squeezed on with our gigantic packs and headed off into the smoke-filled night.
After a long wait through security we took a second 2 hour flight to Bangalore. From there, we got a quick taxi ride to the public bus stop and got on the big bus to Mysore. After another 3 hours of jouncing we arrived in the much smaller city, smashed into a tiny rickshaw to arrive at our fancy (in Indian terms) hotel. I had a reality check when stopped at a rest area along the way and found a hole in a tiled floor a funny faucet with water coming out. That was the bathroom. I must have looked shocked as a did quick 180 because a little girl coming the other way giggled loudly at me.
People here are either very nice, or somewhat deceptive and trying to sell you something or a strange combination of both. Even driving through a city like Bangalore is difficult to describe with any accuracy. Its such a strange combination of chaotic activity, rapid development, and dilapidating infrastructure. We passed men driving bullock carts just after I read the same giant poster sign of Tiger Woods I see in the US. Horns beeping creates a constant symphony of angry drivers as they pass down the pavement which is not so much road but a river of trucks, buses, rickshaws, bicycles and human beings float from lane to lane and across intersections.
I can sleep absolutely anywhere so am really just out to take a shower. My less lucky family, however, is exhausted.
Fun story I learned: A British-Indian and his wife told us that in India its illegal to have television advertisements for alcohol. Kingfisher, the largest local supplier of beer- and a huge company that sells things across the board including an airline and bottled water- gets around this sticky problem by selling its water products as if they were beer. Can you see the commercial? Students, out in a bar laughing and having a blast drinking their refreshing Kingfisher 'water.'

permalink written by  Drie on December 28, 2007 from Delhi, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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a very trying day

Mysore, India

Yesterday was a very eventful, mostly trying day. We left late in the morning from our very expensive Ginger hotel, moved to our much cheaper-but as it turns out, much poorer- hotel Darsham Palace. Afterward we walked on (constantly berated by rickshaw drivers)) to the marajaha's palace. Rebuilt after a fire by an English architect in 1912, the palace a giant and beautiful example of what we think of as Indian architecture. It was extremely cosmopolitan; our hired guide told about the metal poles from Scotland, the tile floors from England, the marble floor from Italy, and carved wood doors from local sandalwood and constructed by local artists. The whole experience would have been far more pleasant if they had allowed us to keep our shoes, but alas we were required to check them in before entering the building, and believe me it was not daily mopped.
On the way out we had a near disaster as Dad returned from retrieving our cameras and discovered his wallet missing from his back pocket! Assuming the worst, that he had been pickpocketed in the jostling line (I'll talk more about Indian ques in a bit) and had left ALL his credit cards in there. We were all kicking ourselves and standing around hoping to spot the culprit when we spotted a family of upper caste Indians opening the wallet. Dad grabbed the thing and the mother told us her young girl beside her had picked it up off the ground. Nothing was missing! It seems he had dropped it, and instead of being disgusted with Indian pickpockets we were delighted by their generosity. The family refused any money reward.
That afternoon we took a local bus up Chaumundi hill at the top of which lay an ancient Hindu temple to Parvati. As we walked in we were befriended by an elderly man who without introduction handed us red and yellow powders to pour in respect over the golden feet at the temple center. He cut through the vast lines of people waiting from section to another, explaining what it all meant. Most visitors had a little offering 'package': a coconut for cracking in offering, a banana for the monkeys, and flowers. We were taught the three most important gods: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, and Shiva the destroyer. It seems that all other gods are either incarnations or offspring of these gods (excluding the female goddesses which as far as we understand are all incarnations of just one goddess either Durga or Parvati).
The man then took us a to a much less crowded , and older, temple to Shiva where he told us the story of Shiva and Parvati's intelligent son Ganesha and how that son got his elephant head. There is another story of how Ganesha proved himself smarter than his brother. The parents asked the two brothers to race around the world and whoever returned first would be pronounced wisest. Gourimesh the youngest took off. Ganesh however, bowed to his parents walked around them in the a circle. Then he declared, "the world is here." We were quite enjoying the tour and the very sweet (if touchy) guide when as the tour ended. He had given no clue of the cost and now, in addition to all the many offerings we had been 'requested' to give in offering, were asked to give öur choice" of money to him. We had no idea and gave 500 rupie, which he was not happy with and continued to ask for more including claiming we had to pay more than a hundren rupies each for the red and yellow powder. We refused more than 100 on this last and finally walked away.
At last as evening came we returned to where the bus was coming. It did not return for a long time as more and more of the people showed up to wait. When the bus finally came chaos broke loose as people ran at the doors. We followed suite. The bus doors did not open and however and we realized too late there was in fact an established line with bars and everything. We went back to the end, knowing we would not fit on to the bus.
Then a a whole group of people, instead of coming to end with us, crowded in front of the line. The bus tried to swing past them, but failed. Suddenly, people began breaking the line and running at the door again. People who had stood dutifully at the front of the line were now blocked behind the bars and rushing people from the back. Desperate and confused we joined the mob and managed to force our way, holding onto each others arms. I, the last one, was nearly pushed back off by angry hands, but man-handled my way in.
As the doors closed behind the squeezed in bodies, we looked out to the teenage girls who had helped us earlier on. One girl saw me and waved rather forlornly.
The whole affair made me feel absolutely horrible. It's this same kind of mob fear behavior that have caused a man to drown another in his attempt to stay of the surface, to riots, and even to mob linchings. Even worse, such behavior cannot even be stopped except by individuals choosing to do the right thing. The government had even built metal bars for a line and it failed in the face of anarchic group think.
When we finally got back to the city, thoroughly crowded out we stopped the completely lit palace and headed back to Parklane restaurant. Here, though rather westernized, you can get a fantabulous meal for around $20 for 4 people. We returned to the hotel, showered, and settled in. Alas, this was not the end of the day for me. I realized as I settled in that I was getting a cold! Arrggg. After fitful half-waking dreams of crowds walking in and honking in our room I got up to find barrettes to get my hair out of my face. In frustration, I pulled out two barrettes stuck together and gripped one in my teeth. A chip of my tooth crumbled off!
I now have a very throat cold, a chipped tooth and a family that it endlessly planning the next leg of the journey.

permalink written by  Drie on December 31, 2007 from Mysore, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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easy day

Udi, India

We took the morning easy, enjoying the warm sun on our patio-with-a-view after a quite painfully cold night. I think our little cute bungalow was built for the British in the height of hot season not for people to stay in the middle of winter. The ceilings are tall and thin metal and a few high windows are inoperably cracked open. We bundled up into our little beds with five blankets.
After bathing in the sun for several hours we headed out to Ooti’s renowned botanical gardens, which cost 10 ruppees each. We were amidst another monetary interaction in which the Indian salesman assured us they had no change when another white couple walked up on the other side of the bars and began a second interaction the sales person. My Mom flustered, tried to get our Rp 100 back and snapped at the guy when he told us to wait. As we completed the interaction and walked into the gardens, the woman laughed and told us she had felt the same way many a time. Turns out they were from the US. Where in the US? Denver, CO! Where in Denver, Whittier, our very own old neighborhood!
Well, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening hanging out with Brett and Cheryl, our fellow Denverites. She had got a Rotary international scholarship to study urban planning for a year and told us of the many plights of going to school in this country. In sum, its not very impressive learning and tends to be frustrating or a waste of time, not to mention that flighty classmates are hard to work with because they are always “paining.” She had some fun and also sobering advice about traveling in India as a lone woman. The gardens were nice too.
Two things about Indians: they are incredibly social people and thus have the odd habit of always coming up to us asking to shake our hand and talk to us or want to take a picture with us. If you oblige, it is a likely that a whole crowd will gather round as if you were giving out a prize or something. Second, if you haven’t seen the head bob from Bollywood movies you will see it here, they use this gesture for everything from assent to apology.

permalink written by  Drie on January 3, 2008 from Udi, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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b/c I need a title

Chennai, India

Two days ago we traveled. All day, all night—and it was surprisingly enjoyable. We took an incredible journey down through the mountains surrounded by tropical forest just as you would imagine is the home of the Bengal tiger and tapir. Then we got on the overnight sleeper train. The back of the seat folds down such that eight people may sleep in a single compartment. We shared the compartment with a young, obviously middle class, Indian couple and I found myself surreptitiously and wondering if they had an arranged marriage (most still are here) and what htat must be like.
It was a fascinating to ride the train, famous ‘infastructure’ created by the British. These particular lines were built for the transport of tea grown in the mountains, as a museum and factory of tea informed us. We arrived in Chennai and immediately left the big ugly city for the small tourist town of Mamallapuram.
This is hour second night in the town and we have spent our time enjoying the beach off the Bengal, visiting the temples here and shopping for the exquisite carved granite sculptures that the town is known for. My dad bought two incredible worked stone elephants that are hollow with another elephant inside. I can’t possibly carry such a heavy thing with me the whole semester but I bought a beautiful lamp cover for rp 70 or about $1.50.
I can’t decide if I enjoy more the small hippy town with every other person a westerner (a hippie one) and thus the subject of all Indian sales attention or not.

permalink written by  Drie on January 7, 2008 from Chennai, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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home sweet home

Jaipur, India

So we have finally moved in with Sunita-Ji and settled in a bit. I am a bit apprehensive about never leaving anything in plain site (ie not in a drawer or something) and might ignore it a little in the little corner by my bed. I cannot tell if our host mom is reserved or a little aloof or just doesn’t deal in English very confidently or doesn’t like me but her demeanor puts me a tad bit on edge.
However, Emma hasn’t even commented on sharing a bed, which is relieving since if she doesn’t mind, I don’t. I hope she isn’t a light sleeper! The room is nice, though, and the bathroom I still think is for our exclusive use. The window is large and we could sit on the ledge, though it makes it a bit chilly when open.
There is also a very weak open wireless connection, which my computer finds but isn’t able to get to any website—just enough to tease. I really hope that we are able to find a wireless café somewhere. It would make things much easier I feel. There also appears to be a functioning computer sitting in our room but am currently afraid to even ask about its use.
The morning was spent at the hotel with a short, somewhat informative, session with Rekaji, our homestay coordinator. Emma asked about possibly taking art lessons or something of the sort, and she said it might be possible once we know our time schedule. Spent a bit more time chatting with Aarthi and Meghan and also talked briefly to Sarah and Betsy who are our complex-mates living with the Mr. Bapna.
The park is even more of a blessing than I had first imagined. We all took a walk there and looks as if many events take place within. There was a rose show when we went over and Rima told us that free concerts with famous artists are held on the 2nd Saturday of every month!
Dr. Bapna rather abruptly asked if we wanted to go to a wedding that we aren’t really invited to, which Sunita seemed to object to. We aren’t quite sure what to make of it but obviously didn’t want to refuse the opportunity to go. We shall see.

permalink written by  Drie on January 20, 2008 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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Snapshot: Cows on the Crosswalk

Jaipur, India

I know I will miss it when I leave and I don’t even like them. But wherever you go in India from the smallest villages to the heart of New Delhi, you will see them eating trash, lazing unconcerned down the road, or chewing their cud blocking the whole sidewalks.
Everyone who has told you that cows are sacred in this country was mistaken, they are the only form of traffic control. And they will form an indelible part of my memory of this country.
Some of them are the classic spotted Midwestern milk cow, with tiny straight horns. Others are the classic shiva bulls with humps that could hold their own against the best of camels, white hide, and majestic, often painted, horns clashing with hay-loaded carts they pull. Still others are nearly black, hairless, and have horns so curved they often frame the eyes. These are the water Buffalo. All the cows have one thing in common: their fat and they know they have the luxury of not being eaten. Instead they will live out their lives eating empty banana leaves and blissfully sauntering in front of honking traffic.

permalink written by  Drie on January 22, 2008 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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school and weddings

Jaipur, India

Orientation is pretty basic. We have homestay advice, hindi classes (fast but good so far), intl deveoplent (basically just our personal observations and discussion so far) and we will soon visit with the healthcare lady. The longer we are here, the more I realize I only really have two real classes (I know this isn't what my parents want to hear). But I'm learning so much from the experience.
We went to that wedding yesterday (the bride and groom are distant relatives of Dr. Bapna). We just saw the procession and very initial Garland ceremony. But this was very cool. It was like a parade with men carying electric candleabras, a marching band, and the groom decked out on a highly decorated white horse.
He received puja at the door and touched his Golden sword to the entrance seal. than him and the bride got up on this little stage with benches and stood around forever will pictures were taken with the Garlands. We didn't actually go to the ceremony because it was at 11:30 and we felt unsafe walking back home then.
You'll be happy to know I avoided a pickpocket attempt on the way out fo the hotel. Two children swooped down on me at teh door and sort of blocked my way. One girl made to shake my hand while in the corner of my eye I saw the boy trying to unzip my purse. I grabbed his hand away and just walked away. I'm half proud of myself and half disgusted.

permalink written by  Drie on January 22, 2008 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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what its like

Jaipur, India

I’ll try to give you a good idea of experiencing life in India (or one sub-culture, of one section of India). The first thing you have to understand is the noise. In every way this is a loud country. The roads are constantly filled with motorcycles, humming rickshaws (without mufflers), hawkers shouting their wares, and above all honking. Honking means a large number of things in this country. The roads are governed by a strict set of rules: who is bigger and who is chicken. The big buses and trucks obviously get right of way, and they honk to remind people of this fact. But the tiny rickshaws generally have drivers with nerves of steel. Their little constantly horns can be a friendly I’m coming up behind you, a do-you-want to ride call, or a I’m-not-gonna-break-so-you-better. Camels and donkeys are as unconcerned with traffik or honking as they would be of a passing fly. Last in the pecking order pedestrians and bikes. We dodge our way lane-to-lane through traffic with angry honks raining in from all sides. The cow is the top of the pecking order, but even these sacred animals get a few beeps of frustration as they ramble into the road.
The second thing is understand is the smells. The streets of Jaipur are a constant nose fest. From step to step smells change from the stink of public urination (a very common occurrence here) to the spicy aroma of somosas and other delicious fry food. The smell of smoke and pollution are never far away. There is the occasional whiff of marijuana.
The third thing to understand is the temperature. You think of India as hot, and we’re told that in 2 months it will in fact be unbearably so. But this is the winter season in Rajastan and that means its cold. Now for Coloradons the actual temperature wouldn’t seem that bad. The temperature ranges from mid-60’s in the sun to low 40’s at night. But the cold is a different experience here. The fact is that nowhere is warm. When you walk out of the weather inside in the US undoubtedly you have the relief of heaters or at least a fire. The buildings are invariably unheated here, and generally built to keep out heat as much as possible. Further, as the temperature dips at night you are faced with a bucket shower (which means frequent bouts when you are wet but not under the fall of water) and iffy electric water heaters. Don’t even think that sink taps have a hot knob. All of this adds up to make you almost constantly chilly.

(if you want the nitty gritty details….)
Life has begun to take on a semblance of a pattern. We get up around 8:10. Emma and I share a single large bed with a massive amount of blankets. We skip out of bed into the cold air to get dressed and wash with cold water. The maid walks in around 8:30 to sweep and is determinedly non-respondent to our greetings. Breakfast with Sunita-ji at 9:00. This generally involves white bread toasted with mango jam or leftover roti (bread) or porridge from the previous night. And also the obligatory chai and Sunita calling from the kitchen that I should pour her some too, but remember, no sugar.
Then we meet our two friends from the other Bapna house and walk the harrowing road to school. A short walk, but a noisy and generally perilous one. We chat with everybody on the school terrace then head for Hindi class at 10: the only rigorous class we are bound to have for the day. This is followed by lunch, various tea breaks served by Rugoo-ji and other classes taught by various people with somewhat flippant self-reflecting content on the ill-effects of globalization or the duty or negatives of, Indian culture.
Class ends about four at which point various people rush to the computers and we eventually coalesce to ‘hunt in packs’ on various errands to Reliance Fresh (supermarket), the post office, or, thus far, cell phone stores or ATMS. I’m sure we will venture to more exciting places as time goes on. Its best to be home before it gets dark. Sunita is likely crabbily complaining about the cold while sitting in bed watching bollywood soaps or about to go out and socialize. She’ll be back for dinner, which is likely to have the most scrumptious food and the obligatory tea.
At night Emma and I take our harrowing bucket showers and settle down to write in journals or study hindi. Just before bed, we watch an episode of Heroes on my computer cringe under our many covers (and my sleeping bag) until the day begins anew.

Today was especially exciting. We spent the morning at the International Book Festival which turned out to be marvelous. There are many renowned speakers from the Rudolphs (who happen to be professors of my parents at U Chicago back in the day), to our very own Rima Hooja (our program director and author of a giant tome on Rajastan) Willian Dalrymple (the author of City of Djinns, a spectacularly written book I’d recommend for anyone remotely interested in India), to Gore Vidal (famous author), to my beloved Aamir Khan who I am thrilled to be seeing speak on Saturday! Who would have thought that particular dream would come true? Will I possibly get his autograph?? PS. Got my cell phone today! 011 91 9784584659 if anyone wants to skype-to-cell me (cheap that way) I would be delighted!

permalink written by  Drie on January 23, 2008 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: Adventures in Hindustan
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