Week in India
Yep, see, I was in India!
Before I begin with tales of India, I have to let readers know just how hot it was there. When I arrived at 5:30am June 3rd, it was a cool 40C, but at daytime visits to Jaipur, Delhi, and Agra, the temperature soared to 50C. In case you've never been in such extreme heat, let me describe how it feels. First, you sweat, alot, and everywhere. Second, you have to move slowly as to not build up more heat, and third, all your aches and pains are amplified because of general uncomfortability. Secretly, though, I wanted to see if I was up to snuff and could deal with the sweltering temperatures. And turns out, I could! We were outside at least a couple of hours each day and I did just fine. However, I would not recommend traveling here at this time because it makes things generally unpleasant.
Line to get into the Ba'hai temple, this time in Delhi (I also saw one in Israel!)
The first day I met up with Sam and we chatted over breakfast, a light fluffy salty mixture of pressed rice flakes, potatoes, and shredded carrots with lime. At Sam's place, she has an excellent cook who will prepare practically anything you like on demand. With Sam's and his efforts, I didn't get sick even once while I was there for the week. That afternoon we visited some local Delhi sights, which surprisingly were also new to Sam and her cousin Vikas. The next day we visited a Ba'hai temple and a Hindu temple too, where Sam showed me the local customs and I was blessed by a few priests.
After being blessed in the Hindu temple:
Moselm Tomb site in Delhi:
Sam's niece, Shrishti, and nephew Shiveth:
Frankly though, driving through the streets of Delhi was interesting enough for me. I had heard of the people piled into small cars, beggar children on the street, and millions of small three-wheeled taxicabs, but there's nothing like seeing the real thing right next to you on the asphalt. The amount of trash around was less than I had anticipated, but I still thought rather had thoughts of CK's sachets of detergen/Bottom of the Pyramid business ideas with a tinge of disgust - instead of focusing on selling stuff to these people, it is probably more important to ensure the right to education, safety, food and shelter first. I was astonished by the lack of literacy and hunger, in particular.
Here is where I learned to say "no", which I had been practicing in Israel. For Americans, "no" is practically unused - always cushioned with lots of softening phrases, like "no, not now" or "maybe later" or "not really" but in India, one has to learn to say "no" without anything else. For the first four days "no" was easy; I imagined myself a newsreporter just looking around and documenting things (mentally) without responsibility for anyone who may be suffering around me. But later in the week, it started to get to me - the vast expanse of wealth that lay between me and the rest of the people around me - and I started to get uncomfortable. "No" just didn't cut it anymore - I started to give food to those who were hungry and want to teach those who couldn't read. It was frustrating.
A beggar in Jaipur - she just finished knocking at our window for 5 min until a policeman shushed her away:
Since most of the population in India is so unskilled, the service industry booms. Here is a photo of a vegetable cart that comes right by Sam's house - one comes by every couple of hours - and the seller shouts his wares - you can buy right there on the spot. Another part of this service culture that I found peculiar is the utter dependence that one has on it. For instance, in order to ride in a car, you absolutely need a driver - a trained one - and so if the driver is off duty, you're pretty much stuck in the house. Also, it is not safe for women to travel alone, so we were always accompanied by a driver or Sam's cousin.
Vegetable cart at Sam's apartment (view from the balcony)
The service at Sam's apartment was phenomenal - particularly the food. Each item was made to our taste - with more or less salt, spice, oil, temperature etc. I ate like a princess and enjoyed every bite, which is good because here in China my system is having more difficulty. A couple of things that surprised me were 1) salty drinks, which are made with sulfur salt - the sulfur smelling a little of rotten eggs or hot springs, whichever you've experienced more 2) the lack of uncooked veggies, which may have been particular to Sam's house and 3) the sheer tastiness and variety of food that can be made with just vegetables.
Midway through the week I went with Vikas and his son to Jaipur, part of the trifecta of cities in the Delhi area: Jaipur, Delhi, and Agra. Jaipur is the capital of Rajastan, with a rich cultural and military history. The four hour drive on the way there was very exciting for me as I have never experienced any sort of driving and traffic remotely as hectic as this; people, cows, dogs, camels, water buffalo, horses, motorscooters, three-wheel taxis, trucks, buses and other cars litter the highway for the entire span, some going in the wrong direction, or crossing at inconvenient times (especially the cows) so the driver has to be especially alert...for four hours. Not an easy task. Once in Jaipur we visited the local sights - the iconic Hawa Mahal (pronounced Mah-hehl, meaning: palace of the wind) with cloistered rooms for the 20-odd wives and concubines of local royalty, and Amber fort (Ah-mer), home to the Rajastani government with an active Hindu temple. We stayed over night at Sam's aunt's place, a large house with several rooms but (unfortunately) fewer working A/C's.
Highly decorated trucks
Our tourguide at Hawa Mahel
Sam's cousin Adarsh at his house in Jaipur:
The elephant we rode - they actually kneel so you can get on, which is no easy task:
The ubiquitous me riding an elephant shot:
Back in Delhi we visited Dilly Hat, a market of cultural handicrafts from states all over India. We did some great shopping there and I went a little crazy stocking up on beautifully embroidered shawls and interesting necklaces, among other things. I began to get a little homesick and made sure I caught the daily episodes of Friends and Seinfeld. Sam and I had some great talks about life and the future. That evening Mohit arrived, back from trekking in the Himalayas with just a small backpack and sunburned lips. We hung out with him until 4am that night (!) despite our trip the next day to Agra.
Mohit having some of the fluffy stuff I liked but cannot remember the name of:
Sam and Me in Dilly Hat:
Painting in Dilly Hat:
By the time we reached Agra, the temperature had reached about 50C (122F) and we couldn't leave the A/C of the car. We spent an hour or so in a local restaurant (called Indiana, which I found particularly entertaining), enjoyed ice cream and water before heading to the Taj Mahal (also pronounced Mah-hel).
The beauty of the Taj is like nothing else I've ever seen - the proportions exquisite and the craftsmanship equally divine. It's too bad that it's just a tomb and that no one, in the history of time, has ever lived there. Even on this extremely hot day, there was a small crowd of tourists everywhere, and the Desis (Indians) do not treat the place with grace - many flagrantly disregard the signs to stay off the grass or take off your shoes, and inside, children shout unceremoniously with their parents looking on. The government has cordened off a ring around Agra where gas-guzzling vehicles cannot traverse, so we had to take a horse drawn cart to get close, and then walked the remainder of the way.
Picture from the cart:
On the way back as we were nearing our car, a boy wanted to sell me a keychain with a small white plastic Taj in a globe of water with sparkles in it - he wanted 100 rupees but I offered 50 (the equivalent of about 11 cents), and he took it, then then proceeded to hand all 7 of his keychains over to me. (I had only intended to buy one). So much for bargaining. After pawning a couple off to Sam's niece and nephew, and their maid, I returned the remaining ones to him, and he was happy. I breathed a sigh of relief when we climbed into the car for the ride back to Delhi.
The next morning I woke up, said goodbye to Sam, and departed for the Delhi airport at 6am. I flew to Bangkok with India Air, and met Ari (after some complications - I had to go through immigration to get my bag and then re-check-in to my China Southern flight, and we missed eachother for about 2.5 hours) and we flew together to Guangzhou.
Sam's shop (MANAN) in Delhi:
Yoga at Sam's house:
We made "poori" (fried bread with potatoes) and passed it out to some poor kids (note: there is no air conditioning in the kitchen, so it was about 100F in there)
some happy kids with lunch: