04 April 2009

Home and Happy...here are some pictures.

I know its small. If you want me to email this slideshow to you with captions, let me know.

01 April 2009

Still in Delhi

So, our return home did not turn out the way I had hoped. I was hoping that I would be comfortably at home right now, clean after a warm shower and in my PJs. BUT we missed our flight! 
Let me back up a bit...
We arrived safely to Delhi on Monday, happy to have ended our last train ride. When we called our hosts at the Delhi B&B, they informed us that a water pipe at burst and they weren't taking guests, but that Pervez had made arrangements for us at a place in the neighborhood.
So we made our way over to another B&B called Anika's Nest. Our hosts were Kumar and Anika. They are a wealthy Indian couple just starting to rent rooms. They were very excited to have us. Kumar was more than hospitable...he planned our itinerary for the two days we would be there: told us where to eat, what to eat there.  He was very helpful in organizing the things we wanted to do in the most efficient way from the location of the house. And he made sure to call us several times a day to make sure that we were finding our way alright and enjoying his suggestions (*a hint of sarcasm*). He ordered his servants to bring us drinks and snacks and told us that his home was our second home. His kindness was appreciated but a little intrusive times.
Last night he said, with a loud, jolly, Indian accent, "Michael (Riley introduces himself as Michael now because Indians don't grasp the name Riley very well.)! You are not to eat out tonight! You are going to eat dinner here and it is on the house!! (He was very excited)
Before dinner he invited us into the living room for snacks and Nimbooz (a new lemon drink that came out in India recently). He fed us plate after plate of bit sized tandoor chicken, fried fish, fried chicken, grilled mutton, and some veggie items too. We were stuffed and were happy, thinking that this was dinner and we could soon go back to our room and finish packing for our flight home in the morning. But, no. 
Then we had a big in Indian dinner with about 8 different selections of curry's, dal's, and veggies. Plus, chapati and rice. We were stuffed. 
Well, the next morning all that meat and food caught up with us and we woke up feeling ill. Riley and I both had to skip breakfast (Kumar was planning another shmorgus borg) and did not get our bags packed on time. We rushed out the door later than we had planned and took a taxi to the airport. In short, customs was hell and I had a long run around trying to get some rupees changed to UD dollars after going through security (it is illegal to take them out of the country, but they made it impossible for me to exchange them). After a lot of Indian bureaucracy red tape. I got my rupees exchanged and we had missed our flight.
We are back at the B&B and have a flight tomorrow.


I couldn't resist...even if I am a day late.
Most of that was true, but we weren't late for our flight and made it home safely.
Got back a few hours ago and everything seems to be in order.
We are so happy to be home. 

India took us to the limits of ourselves and showed us what strong and capable people we are.
We are grateful for all of it.
Thank you to all of you who have supported us through our journey. Your comments and emails gave us energy and encouragement. Thank you.

I will put up photos soon.
Love to you all and we hope to see you soon!
Karen and Riley 

29 March 2009

The Himalayas and The River Ganges

The sun is setting in Rishikesh. We are setting the alarm for 4am tomorrow to get a taxi to Haridwar and then a train to Delhi. Full circle, back to where we started our adventure. We are even staying at the same bed and breakfast we stayed at when we arrived, we liked it so much (temprapedic beds...ahhh).
Yesterday we woke up at 4:30am to take a taxi up the winding Garhwol Mountains to the very tip top. The drive took about an hour. We were with our hotel manager, who was our guide (we found out later was a secret thing he did on the side, which is why the cost of the trek was so much cheaper than other places offering it), another friend of his, and a driver. We drove up the mountain in the dark, with the lights of Haridwar sparkling below and some Hindi music with a good beat jamming on the stereo.
When we reached the top we climbed dozens of steep stairs to a Shiva temple (its all about Shiva in this area, I've noticed). We walked around to the back of the temple. We stood and gazed at the Himalayas and soon watched the sun rise to the right of them. (A side note: I read "Into Thin Air" earlier in the trip, so it was especially intriguing to see the deadly mountains) We have now seen the sunrise at both the lowest and highest elevations we have been at in India.
Once the sun started to blind our view of the Himalayas, our guide and his friend made offerings in the temple and we started our way down the mountain. The trail was very steep and was covered in loose rocks. We passed through the remote villages of rice farmers, passing the occasional child going to school (where the school was, I have no idea). The trail eventually became the aqueduct for the rice fields. We followed the waterway while taking in the lush green rice fields, the sound of rushing water at our feet.
Halfway down the mountain we started to see several waterfalls. The first one was in the distance, across a field...I would guess, at least, 60 ft. high. The second was about that height, split into two, with a pool in between them. The bottom of this one poured into an emerald green swimming hole. When we arrived, there was another tourist who had just finished a swim...we shared our bananas with him.
For the rest of the hike we followed the running water as it flowed down the mountain. We passed various black faced monkeys and Indian guys swimming in their undies.
When we returned to the hotel, around 11am, we went back to bed and slept until the late afternoon. It was a great day.
Today I accomplished my other goal for Rishikesh. The Ganges. Yup. I did it. Riley did too. Granted, the Ganges here is not like in Varanasi or other big cities in India. There are no funeral pyres and there is hardly any garbage on the banks. Rishikesh is where the Ganges starts, so the water is very clean, but very cold.
I marched right in with my clothes on, dunked my head two times, and marched back out. It was freakin' cold. Then Riley went in. That was about it. We haven't seen any other Westerners go in, but lots of Indians.
That's all for now. I'll try and write again when we are in Delhi, but we are running short on time before our departure for the States. Has it been two months already?

25 March 2009

Damn Mathura

We are in Rishikesh in the Northern state of Uttarakhand. We arrived around noon today and it was cold and rainy! Yey! A nice change from the hot and somewhat humid weather we have been enduring for the past month or so. The sun is peeking out of the clouds now and there is still a nice chill in the air. It is lovely.
I have to tell you about my henna experience.
Okay, so it is the worst henna I have ever had...now I know what it is like to have bad prison tattoos. BUT the experience was so memorable, I don't care what it looks like.
Riley and I went with Bharat (apparently, Bharat, is the original name for India...India is the British name) to his house so his niece could do the henna. We walked down a dusty road, in the dark (there are no street lamps) through a maze of allies until we reached his home. We walked in on his family (older brother, brother's wife, niece and nephew, and mom and dad) sitting in the brothers room watching Hindi TV. They all greeted us very warmly even though they mostly didn't speak English. The niece, 12, shook our hands, while the nephew, Bobby who is 7, gave me a thumbs up and Riley an OK sign....he was sooo cute.
We never learned the little girls name. They invited me to sit on the brothers bed and the little girl got started. Bharat brought a chair in for Riley to sit and the family all piled in the little room to watch. They offered us tea and Riley some sort of grilled veggies. We also got to try a cucumber, which we have seen around, but it looks so different from ours at home, we were wondering what it was...tastes like a cucumber.
Even though the henna was not great, I was impressed for the girls skill for her age and I was happy to let her practice on me, because with practice she can start making money for her family. She also did one of Riley's palms; a heart with our names in it. =) We spent over an hour with the family...not speaking much, but enjoying the atmosphere of an Indian family's home. They didn't ask for money, but we gave the girl 150 rupees (about $3), enough to help her family financially, and hopefully buy more henna so she can practice more.

The Taj Mahal was everything I hoped it would be (although, I think Riley found it a little overrated and was bored quickly). It brought joyous tears to my eyes. I think, mostly, because we have been through so much to finally see the most beautiful building in the world it was a milestone for the end of our trip.
It was amazing that once I was inside the gate and approaching the grand masterpiece, I still thought it looked like a painting on the horizon, even as we got very close. The detail in the white marble is unbelievable for the 1600's. I loved being inside the mausoleum. The acoustics are like nothing I have ever heard. I so badly wanted to sing in there!
We spent a couple of hours taking it in and then prepared for our next destination.

We arrived in Mathura on the 23rd as planned and took a rickshaw 11 km to Vridavan where we were going to spend a few days. This town was my pick, I had no real reason or need for going there (other than Holi, which as I said before, was earlier in the month), I just wanted to go, so we put it on the literary. We found out later, that Mathura is where Krishna was born, so (like many Indian cities) it is a very holy city...which is cool.
Well, as soon as we got to Vridavan, I got a very uncomfortable feeling. I didn't share this with Riley, but as it turns out he felt the same way. I can't say what it was...I just didn't see us spending the next 3 days in this crammed little village with nothing in English...this made it difficult to find our hotel.
We tried to check into one of the few hotels mentioned in our guide book, but the guy at the reception desk said that he didn't have any rooms and when we asked him if he recommended any place, he said, "Only for Indians". This didn't sit well with us and didn't make us too optimistic about finding a room. At this point we both voiced what we were thinking and headed back to the train station to try and get the hell out of Mathura.
Of course, it was late in the afternoon at this point, so our train options were limited. Because we hadn't eaten since 10am we decided to find a room in Mathura (it is a bigger town than Vrindavan) for the night and then head to North to Haridwar the next morning.
After some searching, we found a grubby little room at a decent price: 250 rupees (5 bucks).
We spent a while looking for a place to eat around our hotel and failed. So, we decided to give our hotel "restaurant" a try. It was less like a restaurant and more like the family dining room.
Well, we don't know exactly what it was but we assume it was the hotel food...about halfway through our 8 hour train ride to Haridwar, the next day, Riley became (as he describes it) violently ill. He said it was the worst experience of his life. Damn Mathura.
We finally got to Haridwar in the evening and I found us a hotel near the train station. Luckily, this one also had HBO...we spent 1 day and 2 nights in that hotel room. Today Riley felt well enough to make the 24 km journey North to Rishikesh. We will spend the next 5 days here before heading back down to Delhi for our departure. He is resting in the room now and we think he will be better by tomorrow.
We have agreed that as positive and wonderful as our India experience has been to us, we are both ready to be home. It is exhausting to be approached like a cash machine, by beggars and venders, every time we walk down the street. And I have had about as much as I can take of endless staring and butt pinching.
But we have vowed to still make the best of our remaining time here and not let the negative aspects out weigh the good.
Love you all.

20 March 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We are in Khajuraho, Madya Pradesh, India. We spent today exploring the famous temples of this city (the ones with dirty Kama Sutra carvings on it). They date back to about 900 AD and are impressive. We are waiting for the heat to wear off and then we going to rent bicycles to explore more temples South of town.
We survived the long journey to get here, but it wasn't easy.
On the 12 hour bus ride we lived on peanuts, mango juice, and Indian snack food.
The 24 hour train ride; peanuts, raisins, and oranges.
I am staying away from the train food from now on.
After our bus ride we arrived in the stinkiest city yet, Hyderabad.
We were only there 24 hours and that was too long for me. The city was covered with a smoggy haze that is the worst I have ever seen.
I mostly stayed in the room after having my butt grabbed on the street and waited until we could leave for our train to Jhansi. (Luckily, we had HBO, in English!)
We were very optimistic about our train ride. 24 hours, but in 2nd class AC, which is quite comfortable and we hadn't had to share our cabin with any weirdo's...until this ride.
I won't go into it here, but the man we were bunking with made me so uncomfortable that I moved to an unoccupied side bunk and hid behind the curtain until he got off at his stop. Riley didn't sleep most of the night.
We made it to Jhansi around 9:30pm yesterday and found a room. We crashed before waking up at 5:45am to get the 4 hour local train to Khajuraho. Phew.
We finally made it around 12pm.
After getting off of the train yesterday, I had a realization: being a tourist in an Indian train station is just like being a celebrity. As soon as you get off 12 or so guys come running up to you offering rides and rooms each one cheaper than the last. They follow you all the way to the parking lot, until you get in a taxi and drive away. Now I know what the paparazzi is like. It sucks.
The rickshaw driver we went with also came with 2 guys pitching their hotels and a small boy about 10 yrs old. The 5 of us crammed into the tuk tuk. The 2 guys competed with each other the whole drive, trying to sell us a room. (It turned out that they were friends, they said they both date 2 sisters, but are competition while they are working.)
Riley told the guys that we would eat at the Zen hotel (we were starving) and then look at the rooms of both hotels and decide.
During our lunch there was quite a sales pitch. We had complementary crackers and spread, (a first for us in India) we both received free 10 minute massages, at the table, from their ayruvedic masseuse, and even a little friendly whit bunny rabbit came to greet us. His name is Lasso.
The 10 yr. old drove us to the other guys hotel but we went with Zen.
Tonight Riley is going to have a massage and I am going to get henna from the niece of a guy that works at our hotel.
Tomorrow we leave for Agra, we will arrive about 6pm. We plan on getting up early for the Taj Mahal. We read that it is best at sunrise. I can't wait.
Riley says hi!

13 March 2009

Namah Shivaya

I was disappointed that nothing panned out for Holi (the festival of color, where people throw powdered paint on everyone and Indians go crazy...uh, crazy in a good way). Originally, we had planned part of our trip around it. My cousin told me that a great place to spend Holi was in the Northern town of Vrindavan, although it is celebrated all over India. I looked up the date as we were planning the trip and got March 21st...when we arrived and discovered it was the 10th and we would be in the South, we just hoped that we would still get to celebrate.
I suppose we did get a small taste.
When we arrived in Madurai on the 11th, we saw some kids running around the streets covered in pink paint. And we saw the the occasional person going by with their clothes, face, and hair covered in the brightly colored paint, and we drove by in a rickshaw to see some young men smashing the colored powder into their friends hair yelling at us, "HAPPY HOLI!!!", but we never got to participate.
Madurai was also a disappointment, as the purpose of our going there, the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple (a temple celebrating the marriage of Shiva and Parvati), was under renovation.
The major draw, 12 gopuras (towers), elaborately carved and brightly painted with depictions of gods and demons, were covered with scaffolding and bamboo leaves. Boooo!
All wasn't lost though, because at least the temple was still open so we were able to explore it for part of the day (it is one of the largest temples in India). They were mostly repainting everything and power washing the thousands of carved pillars that fill the halls.
What was finished was amazing.
My favorite were the mandalas, different colors and patterns, covering the ceilings...hundreds of them. I also was blessed by the temple elephant. I gave him a rupee and he touched his trunk to my head. =)
The next day, we took an overnight train to Bangalore just to catch a train to the next destination, Hampi. We had the day in Bangalore and planned to see some sights, but I got sick again from some train food so we got a room for the day so I could rest.
Riley was able to explore some and got some new digs (Indian style, kinda 70's polyester) and I was I was better and ready to go by 10pm for our over night to the Hubli station in Hospet, Karnataka.
About 13 km from Hospet is Hampi or Vijayanagar, The Rock City. We arrived this morning and we will spend 3 nights here. The terrain, described as "bizarre" in our guide book, is really beautiful and different; lots of large rocks, boulders and lush greenery. The landscape is covered with many temple ruins which we plan to explore.
It is kind of touristy, but on a much smaller level than other towns we have been in...which means, more modern commodities and less crowds.
It only took us 5 weeks, but today we actually booked train tickets ahead for the rest of our trip (We have mostly, been booking a week or less in advance) I am excited that we will have time to visited all of the places we set out to see.
From Hampi we travel the longest leg of our trip (a 12 hr bus ride and a 24 hr train ride, with a night in Hyderabad in between) to Khajuraho, then to Agra (we finally get to see the Taj Mahal!), Vrindavan, Rishikesh (The Ganges, yeah!), and back to Delhi. Phew. Time is really flying.

09 March 2009

Elephants, Amma, and Holi, oh my!

I am writing to you from the southern most tip of India, Kanyakumari in the state of Tamil Nadu. We have visited 6 Indian states so far and plan to visit at least 3 more before returning home.
Our time in Kumily, Kerala was brief but nice. We arrived after a 7 hour bus ride. The ride was just like the "horror" stories you here about the driving here, but all we could do was trust. The drive reminded me of driving on Mt. Tam or HWY 1, very windy and mountainous, with lush tropical forests instead of redwoods. And the driver went as fast as he could! Riley and I played Jell-o and I was able to read without getting sick, for some of it.
We arrived in Kumily around sunset and took a rickshaw to the homestay Priya and Mr. Q recommended.
We woke up at 6am the next morning to get to the wildlife preserve by 7am. They offer many tours through the preserve; jeeping, boating, trekking. We opted for the nature hike...unfortunately, it was hardly a hike, but our small group of other tourists had a good sense of humor and we were very lucky to see some animals. Riley didn't see his tiger, but we saw 4 elephants (2 mamas and 2 babies), black monkeys (which apparently, are only in South India), 2 giant squirrel, some white necked storks, 2 elk, bee hives, wasps nests, a termite hill, and the blur of a wild boar running into the brush.
We stayed just two nights in Kumily before taking a bus to Kottayam to catch a train to Amritapuri (Amma's ashram). (If you don't know who Amma is, I'm sure you can google her)
The ashram was nothing like we expected and nothing we have ever experienced.
We took a rickshaw 11km from the train station. The rickshaw driver knew the ashram, and when we arrived he dropped us off in front of this large white bridge spanning over the backwaters. Without knowing how to go about getting accommodations (Riley's brother, Ben, just said, "get a room at the ashram") we headed over the bridge not knowing what we would find.
We followed what looked like a path through high rise dormitories and soon someone pointed us towards a temple and said we "check-in there."
A devotee (dressed in white) gave us a pass for E building on the 14th floor. The elevator had pictures of Amma taped to the inside and a piece of paper that looked like a scroll that said, "Chant you mantra".
When we arrived on our floor and stepped off the elevator we were amazed to see the Arabian Sea (having no idea we were so near the ocean) to the West and the Backwaters to the East...palm trees covering every other inch of land. The ashram sits on a peninsula, probably less than a mile wide, running between the two bodies of water. It was the best view in India we have seen yet. To my dismay, they request no photography at the ashram, so no pictures! =(
We stayed for 4 nights, for a very very inexpensive fee. They ask that you contribute 2 hours a day for Seva (selfless service), so I spent some time in the kitchen washing dishes and cleaning the floors, while Riley cleaned the dorms and scrubbed the sinks. I also was asked to help for a bit on stage with Amma during Darshan (the hugging) to tell ladies to wipe their faces of sweat and make-up and hold hair clips and eye glasses as the not hurt Amma during their hug (Ben said this was quite a blessing).
Amazingly, Amma was at the ashram the whole time we were there. I received Darshan twice, Riley once...a very powerful and healing experience, and she gave a surprise group meditation that Riley and I were able to participate in.
We visited with Riley's step brother, Ben and his wife, Sarviga.
We met some amazing people (the most Americans we have seen yet!) both devotees and visitors alike.
It was inspiring to see how the ashram worked and what communal living is like.
We left the ashram and took a train an hour south to Varkala beach to relax and enjoy the beach again. Unfortunately, the Indian food caught up with me and I got a bug. No beach. I was in bed all day yesterday, but luckily, it only lasted the day.
While I was sick in bed, Riley had an thrilling experience at the Kollam Elephant festival. He watched a parade of 30 adorned elephants marching to hoards of drummers. Riley was one of the many people lining the street watching the display, when one of the elephants got angry and ran through the crowd. The crowd turned into a mob and Riley ran for cover in an alcove (and he got it recorded on his camera!). He said after that, he had had enough excitement and headed back to the house.
We will stay in Kanyakumari for 2 nights and then move on to Madurai.
Tomorrow is Holi, the festival of color. Holi was one of the things I was most looking forward to, but we haven't heard of any happenings, so we will have to see. This is a primarily Hindu town, as the tip is a pilgramage site, so there should be celebration.
We will get up early tomorrow and watch the sunrise where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea meet. (It is a holy site to bathe in...I stuck my toe in!)

28 February 2009

We HATE Mosquitos

I am writing from Fort Cochin, Kerala. We arrived 2 days ago at the Ernakulum train station and took a 20 minute ferry ride to the island of Fort Cochin. It is a laid back town, mostly thrives on tourism, with some fishing industry as well. The architechture is all Dutch influenced, so it is very quaint and cozy.
We are staying at a homestay. Our hosts live on the bottom floor and rent out a few rooms upstairs. This is very common in this town, and Kerala, in general.
We have been taking it easy and planning our next moves for Kerala.
Yesterday we went to a Kathakali performance. It is a traditional dance/drama style for Kerala, with elaborate make-up and costumes. The stories are conveyed with facial expressions and hand sign language. We didn't really know what was going on, but it was interesting to watch.
This morning, we met with some Couch Surfing hosts, who were booked with another surfer for our time here, but wanted to get together. We had breakfast with them (Mr. Q and Priya) and their couch surfer, Kay (a middle aged Canadian lady from Greece). We had a great time. It is amazing how, through CS, you feel automatically connected to total strangers who have got your back.
We rode with them to Ernakulum to go shopping for Kay and for me to look for something to wear in the change to hot, humid weather. I don't know how these Indian ladies do it with their layers of clothes and not a bead of sweat!
Mr. Q helped us with the details of our further travels in Kerala and dropped us off at the ferry to head back to Fort Cohin.
Tomorrow we will take a 7 hour bus South East, to Kumily, where we will go check out the Periyar Wildlife Preserve. I want to see elephants (although we have seen many) and Riley wants to see a tiger...although, the chances are slim.
Hope all is well back home!
Love you all.

25 February 2009

Leaving Goa / The Food Report

Our time in Goa has come to an end. We have spent ten days on the beach and it has been very tiring. The water is emerald green and warm. The Arabian Sea has been good to us.
Tonight we head for Cochin in Kerala on an over night train. We are killing some time before our 11:20 p.m. departure and we thought we would talk a little about food. As you may imagine the food in India is very interesting. Indian food is similar to Indian food in the States but slightly different. The most noticeable difference is the use of fresh spice. We have had a chance to sample home made Indian cuisine, lots of restaurant cuisine, and some street food as well.
The homemade Indian cuisine we have eaten was in the north when we were staying in Jaipur.
Breakfast was white toast, jam and masala tea (chai). Other meals consisted of chapati (flour tortillas), dal (a brothy lentil dish), and fresh curd (from the cow that lived in the house entry way). Our homemade experience was quite limited because we only had three meals with our hosts.
Eating out in restaurants has been the majority of our food experience. In Udaipur and Goa, eating out has been most interesting due to the large amount of tourist traffic. In the touristy areas most menus are separated into the categories of Indian (veg and non-veg), Italian, Chinese, and Continental (whatever that means). Most menus stick to this formula with the occasional "theme" restaurants and the offering of fresh juices. In Goa , seafood is very popular. Also, every menu is about eight pages long, with literally dozens of entrees to choose from. We have eaten Indian mostly, but also some Italian when the thought of another curry turns the stomach. Our favorite Indian items have been palak paneer (spinach and cheese), chana masala (chickpea mixed spice), mushroom masala, and the ever present dal (lentils all kinds of different ways) with naan or rice. We have been told by Indians that naan is not a staple of an Indian diet. It is "party food" reserved for special occasions. We have also had some good "tikka", which are kebabs roasted in a tandoor oven.
The Italian food is okay. We have had some very nice pastas. Pizzas get lost in translation a bit. We had one that was described on a menu as a pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, onion, fresh basil, oregano, and herbs. This translated to three onion pizza. I swear there was more onion than sauce and cheese combined. Also, the chance of actually receiving fresh basil when mentioned on a menu has been slim in general. We have been told basil is a holy herb. Maybe this has something to do with it. Pizzas here also lack a decent crust.
Entrees usually cost between 70 and 250 rupees, which is about 1.40-5.00 dollars. We have had some very nice meals in the three dollar range. Sodas cost 40 cents, beer 1.00, and bottled water is 20 cents per liter.
Tipping just doesn't happen. We usually leave 20-40 cents. This amount is acceptable. Once we tipped twenty percent which probably was a couple bucks. Two days later we went to the same restaurant to eat and when the bill was returned to us there was extra change. We think it was the tip from before. When eating out, if you are finished with your meal the appropriate custom is to look around for your waiter, make eye contact, and make the "sign the check" scribble in the air. Until you do this the server will only stand by anticipating this move. I still think I may be slapped for making this motion, since I consider it unacceptable from my tables.
The street food has been very good. We have had chutney sandwiches. These are grilled vegetable sandwiches made with white bread, beet, onion, cucumber, potato, and a spicy green chutney. They are really popular in Mumbai. The vendors crank them out too. We also had roasted flattened chickpeas that looked like cornflakes. These were served in a cone shaped piece of newspaper and garnished with lemon juice and sprinkled with red pepper (very nice, Karen even liked it). Fresh sugar cane juice is popular all over yet we have not tried it yet. There are also all kinds of road side stands with large woks and hot oil that fry up different concoctions. I tried a fried puff pastry that was flattened into a bowl made out of dried leaves. A warm liquid gravy concoction was poured over the pastry and then I ate it with my fingers. I don't know what it was but it was good. I also tried a flaky turnover that had a spicy potato filling.
Overall the food has tasted good and been good to us. We have not gotten sick, thank you very much.
p.s. Karen is doing very well with spices even though she usually asks for "no spice/chiles".
p.s.s. We spent three hours today trying to add some photos, unsuccessfully. Maybe later.

18 February 2009

Made it through Mumbai, Relaxing in Goa

Well, we sadly left Udaipur and headed for Mumbai to meet Rachit, our next Couch Surfing host. When we arrived at the train station and found an STD (pay phone) we called Rachit. He was at work, so he gave us the number of his roommate and after some miscommunication and 2 more train rides, Rachit's friend, Amit, picked us up. Amit has traveled all over the world and has lived in Texas, so communicating was very easy and we were very comfortable with him. He and his wife (Ms. Bombay) have hosted and surfed many couches and he was very proud to show us around his city.
That first night, Riley, Amit, Rachit, and I went out for pizza and a stroll on the beach. We learned about "Eunuchs", who are beggar transvestites. We saw one on the beach and were told to watch out for them. Apparently, they will do anything they can to embarrass you until you give them money, including stripping in public. Luckily, we only heard about this and saw a few (fully clothed) on some of the suburban trains we took around Mumbai.
The next day we went to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival where Amit met up with us. He showed us around, bought us some street food, and we explored the festival. We ended the night at a free concert full of Bollywood artists, who the crowd went crazy for. We had no idea who they were (except for one of the singers of a nominated song from SlumDog Millionaire), but we knew we were watching something special. Amit said, "It would be like, if the Rolling Stones put on a free concert" (Riley thought this was an incorrect comparison).
We only spent a day and a half in Mumbai. We have learned quickly that we don't like the big cities. Even Amit said, "Get out of Bombay. People only come to Mumbai to make money or live a shitty life".
We arrived in Mandrem, North Goa on Feb. 15th and we are enjoying the beach life. First, we stayed at a brand spankin' new place called, Avalon Inn. There were 5 grass huts on the property, and for the 3 nights we stayed we were the only guests there. It was a short stroll to the beach, we could here the waves crashing at night. We were happy to move on though because the strange American woman who ran the place with her native Goan business partner was starting to give us the creeps. We think she is just secluded and lonely at her Inn. No harm because we were at the beach for the majority of our stay.
Today we are just 30 minutes south of Mandrem in a town called Anjuna. The room is not as nice and the beach is further away, but in another day we will be headed to Palolem in South Goa. We hear that although it is not a secret location anymore, it is the best spot in Goa.
Well, gotta get back to relaxing now.
Love you.
ps :\
Riley here. I just had to mention an interesting incident today. We spent the majority of our day at the beach, but also went to the local flea market. While we were at the flea market I encountered a man with an interesting scam. His scam was to rush up on my side and grab my arm. He looked in my ear and mumbled comments about how dirty and disgusting it was. He reassured me that everything was okay and said he was willing to help. I knew there must have been a money catch involved. The next thing I knew the man was cleaning my ear with a long, sharp, metal stick. As he pulled the weapon out of my ear he rubbed some wax on it or something. The wax did not look very natural as he wiped it on his hand to show me. I have also never seen such a substance come from my ear. He wanted to violate my other ear but I tried to politely decline. As I literally started to run away he demanded payment. He continued to follow us saying " Give me money! Sir, give me money." I refused to pay the man who raped my ear.

11 February 2009

Relaxation In Udaipur

Hello all. We hope this message receives everyone well.
First, here is the real scoop on India: If you have garbage, just throw it on the ground. Driving lanes on the road are merely suggestions. The animals are homeless and eat garbage. Some even eat other animals ( Usually the meal is deceased). People are very friendly and don't necessarily want to rob you, but do want to sell you something, anything, really, really bad. Bear in mind that we have only seen large city life for the most part thus far, and everything isn't all bad, it is actually fantastic.
We are finishing up our stay in Udaipur, Rajasthan and are heading for Mumbai today. We enjoyed Udaipur very much. The stay was very relaxing except for Karen's cold. The pace is slower than Jaipur and Delhi, and we had some good relaxation time.
The train ride to Udaipur was a little stressful. We inadvertently booked tickets on our overnite train in a 3 tiered sleeper class. This means that your bunk is one of three stacked on top of each other, folding down from the wall. I don't know if this creates a visual image for you, but ultimately the quarters are cramped.
There was one man who was acting peculiar on the train in our coach. Karen was asleep, in the bunk above him, and he was walking around her, acting fidgety and awkward. As I was drifting off to sleep I would wake up and look over. The man would stop whatever he was doing, abruptly and suspiciously. At one point he was standing over her. Another time he was touching the bottom of her bunk. Whatever he was doing it seemed suspicious. I decided to stay awake and after awhile the man started talking to me, offering me peanuts, and offering me cigarettes. It seemed like he was trying to save face because I had caught him in suspicious activity. Thankfully the man got off the train at a station before ours so I was able to get some rest.
Once we arrived in Udaipur it was smooth sailing. We stayed in an awesome guesthouse with a rooftop restaurant and a nice view. We even had our own bathroom and shower! We spent our five full days here resting, touring, dining, and even did a little bargain shopping.We toured the city palace and a five hundred year old fort. The treasure was a Jain temple at Ranakpur. The temple is hand carved out of marble and the detail is jaw dropping. Even with all the tourists there we were amazed at how peaceful it was. On the way to the temple we were driven through the country side. We were able to see villages and farmers going about their daily business. Karen also got to see some dogs eating a dead cow! I missed it, but I did see a roadkill of decapitated monkey. It was pretty awesome. I can only hope that there are as many animal anomalys awaiting us in Mumbai.
Namaste! - Riley and Karen

08 February 2009

The Pink City

We have departed from Jaipur unscathed, but not without some stressful moments.
We arrived by train after a 5 hour (or so) ride from Delhi. They don't seem to inform you of approaching stops, so we had to keep our eyes pealed. As soon as we got off the train we were bombarded with auto rickshaw drivers saying, "Hello? Excuse me? You need a ride? I'll take you! Right this way!" We tried our best to ignore them and find our way to the main gate. We were to meet the driver our couch surfing host, Rama, said he would send for us, "At the main gate". We were confused and disoriented and I didn't see any distinguishing signs for the main gate. We started up some steps that led outside the station and the drivers (still following and barking at us) said, "If someone is picking you up it will be this way!" (which happened to be the way we were going) This was a lie.
We made our way out of the station but saw no one with a sign for us, only more rickshaw drivers yelling at us. At this point, we started to consider what we would do if there was no driver waiting for us. We went back the way we came and eventually found the main gate.
We saw a couple of guys holding signs. One sign said, "Tobias", then 6 or more drivers with no signs said to Riley, "Tobias?! Tobias?!", trying to get us to go with them. Creepy. Finally, we saw our driver with our sign and followed him to the rickshaw.
We quickly noticed that the traffic was much more chaotic then Delhi and it was rush hour.
Our driver didn't speak English. We stopped to pick someone up and then dropped him off. Then we stopped again in front of a flower market. A man with a cellphone said to us, "Rama is just down there waiting". I was still nervous and unsure. We drove down the block and waited while some other guys hung around the rickshaw and made small talk with us. Then, Rama pulled up on his motorcycle. Relief.
We followed him to his home in the rickshaw. When we arrived to his home he lead us inside passed some cows and a bull, through a large room with adjacent doors, up a narrow stairway to the rooftop, across the roof to a door, and then to our guest room.
The room was more than we could have asked for, with a king sized bed, bottled water for us, and a balcony looking over the street, with a view of Tiger Fort high on the hill.
Our time with Rama and his family was certainly memorable: my first Indian toilet, first Indian bath (a bucket of warm water with cup), a ride on a motorcycle- whizzing through the busy traffic-, first cup of Indian chai, getting lost at 10pm in a city of 3 million people, and seeing my fill of forts and palaces, probably for the duration of our journey. =) Above all, Rama and his family, gave us more attention and care than we could have ever imagined (including offering Riley a job in his jewellry store and me a housewife position).
We arrived today in Udaipur (I think about 300km sw of Jaipur). After the uncomfortable overnight train ride, it is a breath of fresh air. A population of only 800,000. It is beautiful and much calmer. Our hotel is $10 a night. It is simple, but all we need. I especially like the rooftop restaurant, with views of the lakes, palaces, and mountains. We will be here for another 3 days and then on to the largest city in India, Mumbai, with another couch surfing host, Rachit. We will be ready when we get off the train.

07 February 2009

Quick Update

Hi again! We have been in Jaipur for the past 3 days. We are staying with our first couch surfing host, Rama, and his wonderful family. He lives with his 2 brothers, their wives and children, his parents, his wife, and 2 kids. We have a private room in his house on the rooftop. We think its amazing. It is a typical middle class family, I think. They are our new Indian family and remind us of this often. They are very disappointed that we are not staying longer and even advised us of how to cancel our train tickets and hotel in Udaipur. I hate to disappoint them, but this city it too big for us, I think.
We are learning a lot about Indian values and practices. Today, we learned that Indians don't have a word for privacy, so the family comes and goes into our room as they please. =) But its okay. I have many stories to share about this town. It is much crazier than Delhi, but we are making our way, with the help of the family auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) driver.
We leave on a 10pm train for Udaipur tonight...an over night...so we get to do our best at sleeping on the train!
I hope to have more time to write in more detail about Jaipur when we get to Udaipur, but now I am using Rama's computer in his jewellry shop, so I don't want to take too much time.
Also, a correction from a former post:
Delhi is not in the state of Rajasthan, as I said, it is its own territory...like Washington DC, it is the capital of India.

03 February 2009

Arriving in India

Riley and I arrived safely in Delhi yesterday around 1pm. Our flight was long and uneventful...mostly slept. We arrived in the airport, exchanged some money, booked some train tickets, and then met the driver that our host, here in Delhi, sent for us. The driver's name is Shampoo (I don't know how to spell it, but that's how it sounds). It was about a 30 minute drive from the airport to the bed and breakfast we are staying at. It was exciting. The roads are everything you hear about. They drive on the left and have no concern for the lines on the road. Our driver was well skilled. The cars drive so close, you could reach your arm out the window and stick it into the car or rickshaw next to you. We did rear end one motorcycle at one point, but no one really seemed to notice. I used the imaginary brakes a few times, but really felt very safe.
When we arrived, the owner of the house, Pervez, showed us to our room and invited us for tea. We sat with him a while and then retired to our room to get settled and have a shower. Then had dinner in the home around 8:30pm. We were joined at dinner by 4 other guests. Two ladies; one from Sacramento and one from San Rafael! The lady from San Rafael works in downtown Santa Rosa, which we thought was pretty amazing. The other couple was from Colorado. It was a very nice meal and it was interesting to hear about the other folks travels and experiences around Delhi and other parts of India.
We went to bed right after dinner, I was so excited to find a king sized memory foam bed in our room. The honking cars from the street went on all night. Shampoo said that rush hour here is from 5pm-9pm!
We slept late and took our time getting ready. We headed out around 12pm. We hired Shampoo again, because we weren't comfortable enough yet to venture out too much on our own. We ate lunch at a place we looked up in our guide book...I have no idea what I was eating, but it was very good and Riley warned me about anything spicy.
Then we went sight seeing. I'm not sure what its called, but we went to the main mosque of the city. It was huge and the architecture was beautiful. Then Shampoo set us up with a bicycle rickshaw who took us into Old Delhi. It was really amazing. I was happy that we hired the guides because there is no way we would have found our way through on our own. We made our way through the narrow streets crammed with vender's and shops and then stopped. We got off the rickshaw and followed the driver through strange side streets and up some dark narrow stairs until we made it to the spice market. We couldn't catch all of what the driver was telling us, but basically they were selling bulk spices. It was very fragrant and hard to breathe with all of the bags of chili's and other spices.
Eventually, the rickshaw driver drove us by several temples of every religion and then dropped us in front of the Red Fort. We wondered through the forts elaborate architecture for an hour or so and then Shampoo picked us up outside.
We do stick out and get a lot of stares, but we aren't uncomfortable. I am becoming very good at ignoring people and not smiling when I make eye contact, like I normally do at home.
Tomorrow, I want to shop a bit for some India appropriate clothing and we are going to Gandhi's memorial museum. Oh, yeah, we saw where he was assassinated and cremated today also.
More later.

30 January 2009

Last Day in the States

Had a busy day:
  We got up early to quickly meet up with my friend and former roommate, Kimber.
  Drove to Seattle for Stephanie to go to the dentist, we had an awesome lunch at the Greek restaurant Kimber works at on Capital Hill, dropped Stephanie off at baby playtime, and then killed an hour driving through Queen Anne and ended up at Magnolia Park with a fabulous view of Seattle and the Sound.
  Riley, Mackenzie, and I napped on the way home, picked up Dan, and went to visit my cousin Maryanne for dinner.
  We will be calling it an early night and will spend tomorrow preparing to travel on our last day in the states.  We fly back to SFO for a few hours and will meet up with my sister, Julye, and her partner Jennie, for a bite and then fly out around midnight.  phew.
  Yes.  We are excited.  I am eager to start experiencing all that we have been talking about and preparing for over the past several months.
  I believe my next post will be from Delhi, Rajasthan, India!!!!  

29 January 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

We are on day two of our trip, staying with my brother Dan and his girlfriend, Stephanie in Renton (outside of Seattle, WA)...currently, we are babysitting my niece, 6 month old, Mackenzie. She is a great baby...haven't heard her cry once, but Riley and I have little, to no experience with infants. Stephanie seems to trust that we will be okay.
This morning, I was sitting with Mackenzie when Stephanie said, "I'm going to take a shower now...would you get her dressed? Oh, and change her too?" It turned out fine, with Riley's help, we got Mackenzie ready to go in about 10 minutes.
After that we took a trip to Fred Meyer (grocery store the size of Costco), I got to wear Mackenzie in the baby harness while Riley ran around looking for organics.
We arrived home and made quesadillas for lunch and Stephanie left for her dentist appointment. My brother, Mitch, was the scheduled babysitter, but he is stuck in Seattle and we are the fall back.
Mackenzie has now got Riley trapped on the couch while she sleeps soundly on his chest.

Here's the Fed. story from yesterday:
After we boarded the plane and were waiting to leave the gate, one of the flight attendance came to me and said, "Excuse me, I need to talk to you at the front of the plane." As I followed him, I wondered if I had won a prize? Did they find the vitamins in my bag suspicious? Is my family okay? He pointed me to a man standing just outside the plane and said, "That man would like to talk to you."
I had seen this man sitting in first class as I made my way onto the plane. He was over six ft. tall, blond, in his early thirties, in a black hooded sweatshirt, with a baseball hat. My first thought when I saw him was, "Whoa, man, I'm with somebody." Just as I wondered how the airline could safely pull me off the plan for some guy to ask for my number, I saw his badge.
He said, "I'm a Federal Air Marshall and I noticed you have something hidden around your waist, may I see it please?"
A wave of relief flowed over me as I told him that I was wearing a money belt. He excused himself and thanked me for my co-operation and then said, "Please don't alert anyone that we are on the plane." I turned back to board the plane there was another young man behind me, who I had not noticed...I guess he was there to restrain me if I got violent?
I went back to my seat and tried to figure out how to discreetly tell Riley what had happened and why they had wanted to see me. I wrote it down...it felt like a movie..."There are two Federal Air Marshalls on the plane...they saw my money belt and got suspicious."
After that, the lady sitting next to me informed us that she would be moving seats...coincidence? I don't know.
Riley and I enjoyed the flight making sarcastic comments about what a terrorist I am and me realizing what a good lesson it was for how NOT to wear my money belt.
When we arrived in Seattle, we exited the plane in the usual fashion with the attendants saying, "Goodbye. Thank you. Thank you. Goodbye." When we reached them, one of them shoved $40 worth of coupons for McCormicks & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants in my hand and said, "Sorry 'bout the mix up!"
A pretty exciting start.
I'm glad I didn't get arrested. =)

28 January 2009

Starting Out

We left San Francisco this morning at 9.30 to head to Seattle to visit my twin brother and to meet my adorable niece Mackenzie. All is good so far except for almost getting arrested by the Feds. I'll explain later...