The REAL India

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Kristen Said:

Ok, so now I am really in India. I knew that my first REAL, "stereotypical" experience in India would happen once we got to the big cities and needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. Flying from Cochin to Delhi was fine - they actually start the flight giving candy and feed you a decent meal en route on their domestic flights! - but as soon as we left the airport, the chaos began. People screaming at us for a cab (luckily our smart, seasoned tour guru, Todd, had bought us pre-paid taxi service) and practically grabbing us and our trolley of luggage, followed by an absolutely chaotic drive to the train station - honking (constant honking), TONS of cars/bikes/rickshaws/people/trash everywhere (Katie describes it much better below). This was followed by a couple hour wait in the "first-class" waiting area which was filled with broken metal chairs, tons of people and, oh yes, the requisite cat-size rat (which, by the way, I had thought was a kitty at first when it ran under Katie and my feet). This was followed by the small mouse that went by my feet as we were in our middle-class sleeper car...all part of the experience.

As we traveled to Jaipur for the 5+ hour trip, even at night I could see signs of the absolute squalor and poverty around Delhi - strips and strips of shanty-towns along the train tracks with people everywhere, small fires lit (it's a bit cooler up North) throughout and, you guessed, trash everywhere. It will be interesting to see this all that much more vividly in daylight. We arrived in Jaipur late night and were picked up and taken to what has become an absolute oasis in the middle of this chaos (you will notice I use this word a lot...seems to be the only word I can come up with right now that is descriptive enough of what is going on around us). The hotel we are in, the Madhuban, is SO nice...great décor, lots of towels, a REAL bathroom with a proper sink and tub and all, and BEST of all - hot water! I have had the pleasure of sharing a room with K&T the last couple of nights (KT got us a big suite) so it's been fun hanging out...

Todd and Katie describe our last couple of days and activities below so I won't go into it all...just will leave my latest Top Ten...

Top Ten Things I Have Experienced, Part III:

10. The rats in India ARE bigger than in NYC
9. A hot shower, a real toilet & sink and a tub shower ARE a little bit of heaven on earth
8. Watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi on TV while in Jaipur, India, is a must-do and should be mentioned as one of the top things to do in the next edition of the Lonely Planet (Brian, I know you will appreciate that! ? )
7. Once you've seen a cow or two roaming the streets/sidewalks and eating the trash, you've seen it all...
6. Loud snoring, in a confined space, in ANY country, with people of ANY nationality is ANNOYING
5. Not sure the point of the big yellow dumpsters you see on the sides of the streets...especially when they remain empty yet the trash piles up all around on the ground NEXT to the dumpsters
4. The concept of public urinals in itself is a bit hard to get used to, but an even harder image to erase are the men who choose to ignore even using the public urinals and decide to just use whatever wall, street corner or open area is convenient to them
3. Better to drive in a cab with windows almost all the way closed - you never know when a street child will come up, start knocking and saying "hello" and begging for money (as hard as this situation is to deal with especially since we come from such a wealthy country, per Katie's entry below, it's better to just ignore the begging)
2. I think I've already bought more than I can fit into my darn backpack...I need more room already and still have two cities to go...are we allowed to check more than two bags??
1. As cool as it has been seeing all of these sights and experiencing the culture, people etc., one of the highlights so far has been coming back to our awesome room, laying out on the bed all of the snacks we just bought from the local convenience store and pigging out on fun foods (biscuits, crackers, Diet Coke and candy bars)!

Todd Said:

Once we found out that Kristen was coming to join us in India we revised our routing a bit so we'd be able to see some of the great sites of both the north and south during her short visit. So we spent Saturday in transit; flying the 1500 miles from Cochin to Delhi then a few hours later caught a five-hour train to the city of Jaipur in the neighboring state of Rajastan. We had fun rat spotting (they were kitten sized!) in the Delhi train station, and Kristen even sighted a small mouse on our train. That's India for you...

Jaipur was originally founded by a maharaja named Jai Singh in the late 1600's and in fact still has a Maharaja today! The old town is known as the Pink City due the distinctive paint that covers most of the buildings. It is very much the chaotic and vibrant mix that makes India such and interesting place. The gridlocked traffic, roving farm animals, countless Hindu shrines, modern and ancient buildings side by side make it a great (although at times hectic) place to wander. I find Indian cities to be such a sensory overload; stressful, chaotic, noisy, polluted, and squalid but at the same time so vibrant, colorful, energizing, and full of life. They can encompass the full range of human conditions (and smells) all in the space of one city block...just one of the countless things I love about this country. Although I can get a bit blasé about the sights since I spent over two months here a few years back, I'm finding it endlessly entertaining to watching Katie and Kristen react to the uniquely Indian cityscape and its inhabitants of every species!

As far as the requisite sightseeing, during our two days here we managed to see most of the major landmarks in the old town, encounter virtually every roving postcard vendor, see at least one-hundred cows roving the street as well as spotting a few monkeys roaming the rooftops. Earlier today we headed out to the nearby village of Amber to see the gargantuan Amber Fort. We got a special "behind the scenes" view in an area under restoration and off limits courtesy of a friendly security guard (see photo). We even had time to squeeze in a bit of shopping for uniquely Rajastani handicrafts and laze away the evening watching episodes of "Cheers", "Friends", and "Everybody Loves Raymond" on TV.

So tomorrow we are off to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Even though I've been there before, still I can't wait!

Katie Said:

Our introduction to Delhi was the hectic ride to the train station, with mobs of cars, bikes, tuk-tuks, trash, smog, debris and tons and tons of honking and several incidents of near fender benders (except without fenders). We paid a little extra this time to get middle class train tickets. Each compartment had 6 beds, stacked three on each side. Blankets, sheets and pillows are provided, along with a pretty good dinner. Since our train didn't get in until 1am, we all decided to take a nap. I fell asleep quite easily when the lights were on and the car was noisy with people talking and music playing. But as soon as the lights went out and the rest of the passengers went to sleep, I awoke to a symphony of snores!! Talk about a commercial for Breathe-Right nose strips! I have never heard so many loud snorers at the same time. I guess Ambien will sponsor the rest of our overnight train rides in India... I think the only way to deal with it is just to be knocked out/semi unconscious.

Jaipur is the first city we have spent any length of time in that has a large population of homeless people and street kids. I made a major rookie mistake yesterday, and Todd stood by (and even encouraged me) and let me do it... I guess to teach me one of the important India traveling lessons (always the teacher). Anyway, we ducked in to a McDonalds to use the clean western style toilet, and I saw 2 very cute hungry looking girls outside. I decided to buy them each a Tikka Burger (the Indian version of a hamburger except its made of Chicken and costs about 40 cents). I handed one to each of them as we left the McDonalds, and they ran over to a group of other kids, who all mobbed us begging and asking for food and money. A few of them ran along side us for about 3 or 4 blocks saying they were hungry too and they needed food. At first I felt like I should get them all something, but there are just so many street kids. There is literally someone on every corner that looks like they need help, and you really can't help everyone. It kind of makes you feel powerless to really help in any real way.

A lot of the "stereotypes" I had heard about India prior to coming here are turning out to be true. Yes, there are cows roaming around everywhere, even napping in the intersections of busy streets. Yes, there is lots of trash and animal/human waste in the gutters and on the sidewalks. Yes, there are lots of people trying to sell you stuff all the time. Yes, it is very crowded and there are lots of people everywhere. Yes, there is a major divide in socio-economic class...the rich are very rich and the poor are absolutely destitute. But what I didn't expect was all the beautiful scenery, particularly once you get above street level out of the noise and the trash. Picturesque mountains, several gardens, and very unique architecture surround the city of Jaipur.
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Anirudh Agarwal on

I am a citizen of Jaipur...
and i was just reading travel blogs bout jaipur . . . just to see my city through a traveler's eye.

ur blog is funny and fantastic . . . i know its chaos . .. but dats how it is . .
it will take time... but it will be alright in time . . . it will get better

i felt nice... thanks for sharing your experience..

Anirudh Agarwal

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