Bye India!

I have to wake up early because my flight to Thailand is at noon! I can’t believe my time in India is already up, it seemed so short, but I know I will be back again.

I look forward to returning, but I also can’t wait to get to Thailand and check out a whole new culture that I know absolutely nothing about. I really hadn’t researched anything about Thailand until our days in Goa, when I picked up the Lonely Planet guide for the first time. That’s all I have to prepare myself for what awaits over the next 45 days, but I like it that way! That, and I watched the Hangover Part 2 which takes place in Bangkok, so I fully expect to return with a tattoo on my face.

Ilona left for Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and is now happily settled into a hotel. She tells me that the city is beautiful, warm, and friendly, which makes me even more excited to go!

Bye Delhi!! It’s been wonderful… and weird.

Delhi in a Day

I wake up to an incredible breakfast, which has been cooked for me by the young girl who let me into their home, and cooked me dinner last night in Dolly’s absence. It has become clear to me now that she is their live in housemaid, which is very common in other countries. I had stayed with a friend of my father when I was traveling in Greece, who had a live in housemaid as well. I have to admit, I find it a little uncomfortable asking people to do things for me (I know, that doesn’t sound like me at all) but the whole concept is beginning to make sense to me, and I’m becoming more comfortable with it. I was pretty awkward about it to begin with. For one, I was helping her do the dishes last night… but that was before I was certain that she works here.

The breakfast she cooks me is the best breakfast ever. I would probably eat breakfast on a regular basis in Canada if we had this. Dolly tells me it is a traditional Indian breakfast and it consists of a whole grain naan bread stuffed with cauliflower and chives (or another herb), topped with a bit of butter and served with plain yogurt. They serve me not one, not two, but THREE of these naan breads one at a time. I am satisfied after one, but they keep coming so I keep eating. I only get through half of the third one, and am pressured to eat more but I absolutely can’t. I tell Dolly how delicious it is many times, but she seems concerned when I can’t finish my third piece of naan bread. I think it’s funny how different cultures and generations feel about food compared to how we regard it now in western culture. The older generations are always wanting us to eat more, have dessert, stuff our faces if we love it. Now, in western culture it’s looked down upon to over eat. With North America’s obsession with weight, it’s extremely rare to have someone tell you to keep eating when you say you’re full, but this has happened to me so many times in the last month while being in Denmark and India especially.

After breakfast Dolly calls a driver to take me around Delhi and see all of the sights I would like. She suggests that I go see The Lotus Temple, The Red Fort, Quatab Minar, and Connaught Place.
First, the driver takes me to Quatab Minar which is the tallest building in Old Delhi, and was built hundreds of years ago. Some hindi singer is filming a music video on one section of the grounds so I go to watch for a little bit. I love Bollywood style everything! All the acting is so cheesy, and even the song they are dancing too sounds cheesy, though it is in Hindi and obviously I can’t understand what it’s about. It was fun to see how they film the video in any case.

I notice much later in the day that I was ripped off at the Qutub Minar, when I gave the man at the counter a 1000 rupees for a 350 rupee ticket, and was only given 350 rupees back. I don’t notice at the time because people are swarming me, asking if I needed a tour guide, or need to buy postcards, need a photographer etc., as I am paying. It’s very clever of them, to distract you like that, and the 300 rupees I lose is not the end of the world, but it’s the moral aspect of it that hurts my soul. At first when I arrived in India I thought it was hilarious and I came prepared to be ripped off at least once or twice, but it really does become tiresome after a while. I don’t enjoy feeling like I have been taken advantage of… Especially 10 times a day. However the flip side to it, is that when I do catch someone trying to rip me off, and call them out, I feel like a champion.

After the Quatab Minar I planned to go to The Red Fort and Lotus Temple but they are both closed, so the driver makes some suggestions about where to go. I have heard that sometimes tour guides and cab drivers will lie to you about monuments being closed in order to lure you to other activities that they earn commission for bringing you to. At first I think that’s what he is doing because I have learned to assume the worst, but he takes me to The Lotus Temple anyway to take pictures from the outside and I see that it is in fact closed, so that makes me feel better.

However, after The Lotus Temple he drives me to a textile shop without asking me if I’d like to go (but he doesn’t really speak English so if he did ask it’s possible I wouldn’t have understood him anyway). The next thing I know we are pulled over and someone from the shop has come to collect me from my car. It’s all very confusing and a little bit scary because I don’t know where I am… this doesn’t look like sight seeing to me. I notice a lot of other tourists around who are all smiling and looking at scarves and dresses, which puts me at ease. It becomes obvious very quickly that I have been brought here with the sole purpose of purchasing something. They sit me down on a very luxurious purple couch, offer me a tea, and begin their schpiel. “Great quality” “best price” “many more colours” “feel the silk”. They are trying to sell me saris, pashminas, pillow cases, everything and anything they can. I keep explaining that I do not need or want anything, but of course they keep pushing. In order to get out quickly, I find a pashmina I like and tell them that I’ll take it and then leave. They try to lure me over to other sections of the shop but I firmly tell them all I would like is the pashmina. When I ask how much it costs, the response I get is “very good price”….. Okay…. How much is a very good price?

The pashmina is 50 Canadian dollars, and they refuse to haggle with me when I tell them that it’s way too expensive. “Fix price” they keep telling me, but I know that NOTHING in India is “fix price”. I find a cheaper pashmina that I like less, but agree to buy it anyway just to get out of the store (it just seemed too impossible and very awkward to just leave with nothing, which I’m sure is their intent). On my way to the cash, they take me the long way around weaving through separate sections of the giant store where I am stopped numerous times and told to look at the good quality jewelry, traditional indian style shoes, broaches for your saris etc. I tell the man leading me on this ridiculous walk to the cash register (which I had passed on the way in and therefore knew I did not need to walk through all of this to get back) that I do not want anything else, and that I’d just like to pay and leave. Growing more annoyed with every step we take towards the cash, I decide to just duck out and leave as soon as I see the front door. I hear the man calling after me, but I just ignore him and b-line back to my car.

I am absolutely sick of feeling like a cash cow everywhere I go. I don’t like people thinking they can take advantage of me and make me buy things I don’t want to buy, or pay more for things I don’t even want in the first place. For example, people asking me to take a picture of them, and then demanding a tip. I didn’t ask them for a picture, they asked ME. It happens literally everywhere I go. I think what annoys me the most about this textile shop situation, is that my driver took me there without asking me. I wanted to go sight seeing, Dolly had given him a list of places I wanted to see, and this textile shop was not one of them. I feel angry for a long time, thinking about the textile shop and how it was filled with unsuspecting tourists and almost no locals that I could see. It makes me think about my visit to the textile shop in Jaipur, where I had purchased a sari and bed sheets. I was given a tour of how they make all the fabrics and dyes, so it seemed more like a tour at the time. It makes me wonder if I had been ripped off there too, even after haggling. I just never know. The whole experience now feels dirty and unwelcome, as opposed to exciting and unique, as it had felt in Jaipur. As we drive to the next monument, I begin to cool off and feel less angry about the situation. I remember how much I loved buying my sari and sheets, and how the textile shop in Jaipur had made a brand new one for me after taking my measurements, and had even brought the sari to my hotel along with the man who had sewn it, to make sure everything fit perfectly.

I start to think that even if I had been lead there on false pretenses, with the sole purpose of paying too much for a sari, it was still extremely inexpensive in comparison to what I would have paid at home, and felt like a very special experience at the time. I just find that I am constantly struggling with how to know what is actually a good deal, and what is a mistake, which really is extremely exhausting and disheartening after a while.

Next, my car takes me to The India Gate, which looks a little bit like the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris. This is the most touristy-vibed place I have been to yet, including the Taj Mahal. At the Taj, there were no vehicles allowed anywhere near the entrance, and I only encountered a very small number of people selling trinkets and things, who were only allowed to stand out front of the entrance to the Taj, not anywhere inside the gates. Here, at the India Gate, I am still in my car when a crowd of children start swarming my doors on both sides, knocking on my window, asking me to buy things or begging for change. I manage to squeeze out one side of the vehicle and start walking towards the monument but of course they all follow me. When I reach the surrounding area of the gate, a very old woman comes up beside me, smacks a sticker of the Indian flag to my arm, and demands a donation. I come up with the lamest lie, and tell her that I have left all my money in the car. She angrily removes the sticker (as if I had wanted it on my arm in the first place) and mutters something in Hindi under her breath.
I still have a pack of children following me.

On top of that, a young woman has now grabbed me by the back of my arm, and is requesting that I take a picture with her. I have learned to say no to this question every time I am asked because for one, I don’t want or need a picture with random people, and secondly they always want money afterwards, so it’s a lose/lose situation.
I politely tell her no and try to keep walking, dodging small children with trinkets in my face as I go. She does not like my answer, continues to grab me, and starts saying “please”. Not in a begging tone, but in a “you’re being a bitch just take a damn picture with me” tone. I have to physically remove her hand from my arm, and tell her no in the most stern way possible. I feel awful but it is also SO ridiculous to have someone I don’t even know grabbing me like that while I’m minding my own business. Beyond those encounters there are a million food and drink carts scattered around the circumference of the gate, people making bubbles (and selling the little machine that blows them), people selling postcards, cotton candy, keychains, weird little squeaky toys, and any other trinket you can think of. It was absolute madness. I get in, take a photo of The Gate, and run out, back to the safety and tranquility of the car.

Finally, the driver takes me to Connaught Place, which is a main market area of Delhi.
I shop around for a little while, still slightly angry from being dropped off at the textile factory earlier, and make it very clear to all shop keepers that I encounter that I do not want to buy ANYTHING. I stop into a little café and order a chicken sandwich that honestly, tastes exactly like an Indian version of a Subway sandwich, which means I adore it.

I return back to Dolly’s house where it is just me, the housekeeper, her baby and her husband. Something delicious is cooking, and I wonder if we will be eating in again tonight, or if I will be meeting Dolly somewhere for dinner. Both sound like fabulous options to me.

I am served dinner at home and my mouth is watering, it smells SO delicious. I would try to explain all of the yummy things that I have, but I am too busy eating them. I took a picture and thought about posting it to the blog, but then I thought about how much I don’t like when people post pictures of their meals on instagram, so I delete it. Sorry folks.

Back to Delhi

Our final day in Goa! My desire for the lazy atmosphere of beaches and pool side vacationing has long passed. I am excited to get back to the bustling city of Delhi where I hope to find something with a bit more air of adventure. That is why I planned this trip, after all.

Check out is 11am, and our flight doesn’t leave until 3:30, but Ilona is feeling well enough to leave the room so we go for a long breakfast down the street from our hostel. The one thing I will actually miss about Goa is the Indian Kitchen. The quirky room we stayed in was so sweet, and I can’t pretend I didn’t like having a pool in the backyard for me to take a quick dip in when I was overheating, which was more often than not.

After our breakfast we get in a taxi to the airport. We are slightly concerned because the ticket they gave us when we booked our flights only had my name on the return ticket. We were preparing for the possibility that Ilona would be stuck in Goa forever. Luckily the airport staff members figured it out and let us both board the plane, but it took a few of them to look it over before they decided to accept it. Close call.

While we’re waiting for the plane to board, Ilona buys a lychee drink with chunks of white lychee fruit floating around in it. It reminds me of those Aloe drinks that I tried once and hated, solely because of the chunks. She can’t stomach the juice because it is too sweet, so I try it, thinking I will also hate it. Wrong. It is probably the most delicious, heavenly juice I’ve ever had. Ever. The chunks of lychee are strange at first, but I start to welcome the surprise of texture and extra flavour in my yummy pink juice. I read the label to find that it is produced in Thailand, so in other words I will be drinking this juice every day… for the next 45 days. Perhaps I will bring a case home. That’s how much I love it.

The plane ride, like all of the planes I’ve been on, was awful and filled with people kicking chairs, crying children and even one child who decided to become physically ill when we were landing… At least that was at landing, not take off, I would have died.

We are due to meet Dolly (family friend living in India) for dinner tonight, and she has also offered us the option to stay at her home, which is extremely kind of her and of course I accept. We call to let her know that we have landed in Delhi, ask her where we should meet, and she gives me her home address. Ilona is concerned that she will offend Dolly with her inability to eat any food at dinner, so decides to opt out of the dinner and accommodations for the night, and goes to room in the hotel we had previously been staying at in Delhi. Her plane leaves for Thailand tomorrow and I won’t see her again before she goes, so we say goodbye for now, until I arrive in Bangkok on the evening of the 30th to meet her.

I get in a cab, and hand the driver a piece of paper with Dolly’s address. I am to stop there and drop off my things, then go for dinner. As per usual the cabbie tells me he knows where he is going, but starts to get lost as we approach the area. After about 10 minutes of aimless driving around and asking people on the street to help us, the cab finds Dolly’s apartment. I am greeted by a young girl about my age wearing a long green shirt and matching pants, both with traditional gold Indian embroidery stitched into the fabric. She helps me with my bags into the house, but I do not see Dolly anywhere. I ask the girl if Dolly is at home, and do not get a response. I ask her where Dolly is, hoping that re-wording my question will help her understand, if it is an issue due to the language barrier. She looks at me quite blankly, but tells me (in broken English) that Dolly has already gone. I call Dolly to let her know I have arrived at her house and to ask where to meet her for dinner. She informs me that one of her close friends children has just passed away, and she is unable to meet me for dinner, but that she will be home later tonight and we can plan to do lunch tomorrow. The young girl has prepared a meal for me which consists of rice, spiced potatoes, beef on the bone in a brothy sauce, and a curried vegetable soup. Everything is delicious and I am starving, having missed lunch, so I appreciate it even more. I am so happy to finally have a true, and fantastic India meal!

I see a very cute baby in a cradle at the top of the stairs, and I ask if the baby is hers. She says yes, and tells me that he is 6 months old. I ask her name, but she doesn’t understand me. At this point I am unsure of wether or not she is Dolly’s daughter, or just a woman sharing the living space because it is a large apartment style building and I know Indian living is much more crowded than Canadian living… It’s all very confusing. I don’t know how to ask, mostly because of the language barrier, so I help her clean the dishes in silence. Afterwards I go to my room and watch Vampire Diaries and Grey’s Anatomy dubbed in Hindi.

I am alone and awkward, but so happy to have been invited and welcomed into their home after only having met Dolly twice before.
She and her husband arrive home and make me eat more food even though I’ve already had dinner, but it’s hard to say no because it’s so good! Dolly arranges for me to do some sightseeing and market shopping in Delhi tomorrow which I look forward to. I barely got to spend any time in this city when I first arrived, so I’m happy that I have the extra time now to fit in all that I can before I go off to Thailand, on an entirely new adventure!

More Goa…

I have one more full day in Goa. Ilona’s health has gotten worse again so it’s just me. I have no idea what to do with my day. I can’t fit anything else in my bag so shopping is out of the question, I don’t dare go back to the beach alone after yesterday’s little encounter, and really there isn’t much else to do in my surrounding area of Baga Beach. If there is, I don’t know what it is. This is a party town, but I’m not in the mood to party.

I met an Australian guy last night while I was using the Internet (which is only available in a small location of the hostel), who has been here for a month, and he was telling me about different busses I could take to different cities for very cheap. I consider doing a little day trip, but I don’t know if I’m ready for Indian public transportation yet. Also, with Ilona’s illness not passing as quickly as we had hoped, I don’t want to go too far away and be unable to contact her, so I stay in Baga Beach.

I get up and take a cold shower (I have a new appreciation for these, when it is so humid out like this I could never dream of wanting to take a hot shower), then venture out to get some breakfast for us. I go the opposite direction that I did yesterday morning, because I didn’t see any good breakfast restaurants that way. This time, I am lucky and stumble upon a restaurant which has MUFFINS on the menu ! I order one Apple Cinnamon, and one Banana Walnut muffin to go. I think they were planting, watering, and harvesting the apples and bananas from scratch out in the back somewhere, because it took 45 minutes, but I can’t complain because they look pretty delicious. When I get back to our room we dig into the muffins and the 45 minute wait is confirmed to have been SO worth it. They are fresh, warm and flavourful, what else can you ask for in a muffin?

After our breakfast I decide to go and try to find a walk-in clinic somewhere for Ilona and for myself. I have gotten so many mosquito bites lately that I am probably 30% mosquito now. The tent covers me at night, but there’s only so much bug repellant I can apply during the day. The bites are swollen and red, and about 5 times the size of a normal mosquito bite. (I will attach a picture… you know you want to see it). I figure it can’t hurt to go see a doctor about it if I’m already in need of one for Ilona, but I also know there is probably nothing they can do for me. Finding one however, proves to be more difficult than I thought. On previous walks I had passed lots of places with the little red cross, so when I am planning to find a walk in clinic, I figure it should be no problem, and I even have a vague memory of one location in particular. I quickly discover that Baga Beach has an obsession with dentistry, because each and every red cross I pass is for a dentist, not a doctor. I wonder if the people who live here all have nice teeth, but I haven’t noticed one way or the other.

I give up on the walk-in clinic. I could probably ask around and find one, but I figure we can wait just one more day and make it back to Delhi, where I can ask Dolly (family friend in living in Delhi) for help on where to go or who to call.

The rest of my day is uneventful. I hang out by the pool, go on Facebook, Skype my parents. I hang out with Ilona in our room when she is awake. Later that night however, she becomes so sick that we decide we can’t wait until tomorrow to see a doctor, so we get in a cab and go to the nearest hospital. Medical costs are almost nothing, about 500 rupees ($10) total for a visit with the doctor and meds to take home. One of the medical staff “accidentally” forgets to give me 100 rupees after making me fork out all this change because she doesn’t have any. It’s all very confusing but I catch it and call her out, because I have learned to watch everything everyone does at all times…even in a hospital, sadly.

On the way home we ask our cab driver to stop so we can get a couple oranges and a bottle of water. He offers to go and get them for us, and says he’ll get it for cheaper because he is Indian. He is right, he comes back with 4 bottles of water and 8 oranges and doesn’t accept my money when I try to pay him back. (I think he was trying to hammer home the point that everything is cheaper for him, but I still very much appreciated it.) There are often signs even, that list the price difference between Indians and foreigners. It isn’t anything like the wage difference between men and women in Canada, where they try to hide it. Here it’s like they are proud of it. At the Taj Mahal it was 750 rupees to get in for foreigners, and 25 rupees for Indians. Quite a big gap. There were also separate lines for 1)foreign women, 2)foreign men, 3)Indian women, and 4)Indian men at the Taj. And who do you think got in the quickest? Racism at its finest.

It occurs to me that morning will be somewhat of a challenge if Ilona isn’t feeling better because our hotel check out time is 11am, and our flight doesn’t leave until 3:30pm. The airport is only an hour away so in any other case this wouldn’t be a problem, we could just eat a long lunch or something, but if she is still sick I don’t know how that is going to go. If we have to carry our full backpacks around from 11am to 2:30, it could be a problem. The adventure continues !

Arabian Sea

In the morning Ilona is feeling a little better and feels up to eating which is a miracle because she hasn’t eaten much in the last few days, so I go on a mission into the streets of Goa to find her some breakfast. She requested a muffin and I know that is going to be next to impossible but I try. I stumble upon a cafe about half a kilometre down from our hostel after being called over by every single shop keeper on the street. I am basically the only person walking around because not many people are up early in Goa, I guess it’s due to the beachy vacation vibe.
As I approach the cafe I see a muffin in the display case and am so happy to have found something Ilona can eat. I bring it back to the hostel along with two fruit smoothies (one for me of course). The muffin is awful, but she eats it anyway. She has taken a hot shower while I’ve been away (hot shower is an extremely rare treat for us backpackers) and feels much more refreshed and healthy. We go hang out by the pool for a bit, then she decides that she has the energy to go to the beach ! On the way we stop for water and I grab a Bacardi Breezer for the sand. Two liters of water and a cooler cost 80 rupees ($1.50), basically free. The best thing ever.

We make it down there and find a quiet spot on the beach where we won’t be bothered by too many people. I don’t know who I thought I was kidding when I thought we would be left alone on our beach visit. I think being on a more quiet patch almost drew more attention to us because our white skin was much more obviously seen with no people to shade us. Who knows, but we had numerous people approach us and ask if they could take a picture of us, with us, of them, or wanted to know our names etc. I will never understand the concept of wanting to take a picture with me when people don’t even know me. And even more confusing are the people who want me to take a picture of them. On MY camera. Why? I have to say though, I do prefer when they ask if they can have a photo, as opposed to them just getting close to my face and sticking a camera in it without my permission.

I decide to go for a quick swim in the Arabian Sea. I would explain why, but does it really need an explanation? It’s the Arabian Sea.
I go in alone while Ilona sits with our things on the beach and continues to be approached by Indian men wanting to talk to her. Thinking I have escaped them, I start walking into the waves. The waves are strong and the sand beneath my feet is sinking, so when I turn around to see if find Ilona on the beach I realize I’ve been guided very left by the sea. I start slowly walking back towards my original entry point, just enjoying the water and the view. As I am walking, still quite far out from the shore, two young Indian boys of about 15 are getting too close to me, walking towards me and staring at me. I politely ask them to keep their distance from me, and they put up their hands like I’m being ridiculous. I continue walking, at the same time trying to get away from them and back to the shore. Ten seconds later when a big wave comes rolling in, I turn around to see one of them right beside me, who reaches out to grab my bathing suit top. Needless to say, I lose my mind. I start screaming at the kids telling them to get away from me, I think I call them gross, I swear at them. I am probably a little harsh, but not really because that’s totally nasty, in every culture. Land or sea, there is no escape.
It does become pretty emotionally taxing to always be on your a-game about everything. There are ALWAYS people who are always trying to rip you off, steal your things, who want to “help” you find something, grope you. It’s exhausting, and I finally snapped. Ilona got a picture of me telling them off, which after I calm down, is maybe a little funny.
The upside to the constant trickery here, is that I’ve gotten pretty good at bargaining and knowing how much I am willing to pay for something. I don’t feel bad about telling someone they are asking too much, where as before I felt like I might insult them.

After that little incident we leave, because I am ready to punch the next person who approaches me. We stick to the backyard pool where there are no leering young boys to bother us.
Goa is beginning to get on my nerves, as it’s humid weather and sandy beaches don’t quite allow for me to cover up the way one should when traveling through India. It’s hard to complain when the scenery is so beautiful, but I am in too adventurous a mood to lay on a beach all day. There is also less culture here than in Delhi or Jaipur, so I look forward to getting back to that bustling city on Sunday to do some more exploring.

I forgot to mention what I did for dinner in my last post, and for the first time in a long time it was actually note worthy!

On my way home from the beach I found a hotel that I had read about in Lonely Planet called Johnny’s Hotel. Lonely Planet described it as a very cheap but clean place to stay with a restaurant attached so I figured I’d try it out. I was the only person in the restaurant, which made me skeptical, but I was hungry and didn’t care. I ordered butter chicken and cheese garlic naan (interested in how that works). The butter chicken was delightful. I think I was probably more impressed with it than I should have been, but after a drought of good Indian food which I have been trying hard to find, it was like a breath of fresh air. The cheese garlic naan however, had no cheese. I do not comprehend why so many menus here cannot offer what is listed on their menu, but I’m not mad about it because it still came with garlic and let’s be real, that’s the only important part.

Baga Beach

We wake up and leave that godforsaken place with the scary noises as soon as we can. We walk down the road to the new, more quaint and affordable hotel. We make plans to go for breakfast and then to hit up the beach but during our meal it seems that Ilona’s health has taken another turn for the worse and she won’t be able to make it to the beach. I go out into Baga on my own, where there is no sight seeing to do like there was in Jaipur, only a beach. Along with the beach come the classic beach shops including tattoo parlours, and rickety huts selling very cheap swimwear, floaties, and bongs with pictures of Bob Marley on them (yes even in India).

I walk through the beachy-market area to the main beach along the coast of the Arabian Sea where there are just a TON of people. I don’t go in the water because frankly the crowds are too big and I don’t want to leave my things on the beach unattended. I walk along the beach and around the bars and restaurants in the area and at least get a feel for where our hotel is in relation to the water. It’s very close, only about a 2 minute walk, which is nice. I come back to see how Ilona is doing (and for lack of anything else to do but laze around on the shore) but she still isn’t feeling well, so instead of walking all the way back to the beach I decide to hop in the cute little pool outside our room and then read up on things to do during the next portion of our trip when we go to Thailand. All the while i am laying in the sun, surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers, coconuts and dragonflies. It’s not a bad day considering the circumstances. Ilona hopes to feel well enough by the evening so that we can walk over to the beach and watch the sunset.

Unfortunately she’s too sick and needs more rest so I decide to go alone. It’s a very busy beach filled with lots of screaming children, wild dogs, and even cows but with the pink and orange sunset sky ahead of me, I don’t care about anything else on this beach.
I walk up and down along the shore with my feet in the water thinking about nothing but how happy I am to be there in that moment. Until some man comes right up to me and takes a picture of my face. That sort of ruins it.

When I am done walking along the shore I find a place to sit where I can admire the sunset head on. While I am sitting there two Indian guys sit directly behind me. At first I don’t notice or care until they start talking to me, and I think I am in for another close up picture of my face when I turn around to answer them, but it turns out that they are just genuinely friendly people. They ask me why I am alone (in a non-creepy way, though I assumed it was creepy at first) and I explain about Ilona being sick but that I really wanted to come see the sunset anyway. We chat for a while and I find out that one of the guys is a Bollywood soap star in Mumbai. How cool! I ask him to write down the name of his show so I can watch it on YouTube. I didn’t have time to go to Mumbai this time, so this can count towards me seeing a Bollywood show.

They invite me to a party in Panaji (the capital of Goa, about 1 hour away) and say I can bring my friend with me if she is feeling better. I know that even if she were to feel better she won’t be well enough to be up to going out to a party, and my mama taught me better than to go to something like that alone, so I stay home and write instead.
I’m so fun.

I am skeptical about this guy’s status as “Bollywood actor”, but as soon as I creep his Facebook page, I find out it’s legit and regret not going to the party. Still the wise choice though, I know.

Goa

Goa is a south-western area of India. It’s known for it’s tropical temperature and white sandy beaches, where lots of tourists go to party, lay in the sand, and ride motorbikes around the winding streets.

We wake up at 7:30 in order to pack our bags and get to the airport in time for our flight to Goa, which leaves at 11:30. Karam, our driver, has told us that the Jaipur airport is 2 hours away from our hotel so we decide it’s best to leave by 8:30 at the latest. We order two very exciting free breakfasts to our room, just because they’re free. The only reason I say they are exciting is because the butter for the toast comes very yellow, lumpy and half melted in it’s metal container. Delish.

We get in the car prepared for a 2 hour drive, but 20 minutes later we pass a sign that reads TO AIRPORT… and soon after that, another sign listing the gate numbers. We check with Karam who mentions he has never been to the Jaipur airport before, and doesn’t speak fluent English so I assume somewhere there was a misunderstanding about how far the airport was. We are 2 hours early for our domestic flight in a very small Indian airport so there isn’t much to do. We visit some shops and get a drink and just sit and wait. Finally it comes time to board the plane and we take a little shuttle bus 30 seconds from the airport to the plane. I have never been on a plane that you get to actually walk up too outside, only ever at big airports where the ramp thing is already connected to the building when you board. I like the quaint style of this airport much more. It’s a very small plane that we are taking, and it’s less than half full. Ilona and I sit down and get comfortable but are later asked to move seats so that there would be someone sitting by the emergency exit, just in case. We happily oblige and discover that there is much more leg room at the emergency exit too. Upgrade! (and not the kind that comes with strings attached like smelly bathrooms and icy air).
It’s listed as a 3 hour flight, but 45 minutes later they announce that we are landing and I am instantly concerned that I somehow managed to get on the wrong plane. No such luck, (that would have made for a VERY interesting blog post) there is just a stop over in another Indian city. Ilona and I are frustrated because we had booked this flight through a travel agency in Delhi, (first mistake) and not demanded to see all the details of our itinerary until the day we were leaving to go (second mistake). When we got the ticket there was next to no information, Ilona’s name was misspelled, and only my name was on the return ticket. It’s all very questionable and we try to call our travel agent but the phone number he provided does not exist. Slightly sketchy…
I am so ready to be done with this tour thing that we booked.
Anyway, we’re frustrated that we don’t know anything about the flight we’re on but the stop over isn’t long at all so we sit patiently inside the plane and wait. The second half of the trip from this stop-over Indian city (I totally forget the name and was never given an itinerary to reference) to Goa, is much more popular than the first half. The plane is probably 80% full. It’s about half way through boarding when a woman approaches us and tells us that we are in her seat. Of course, when they asked us to move they did not take into account the other portion of the trip, and neither did we…because we didn’t know it existed. We go back to our original seats and there is a very young boy casually sitting at the window. We tell him that these were our seats and he just responds with “nope it’s mine”. I am too exhausted and frustrated to care, and he’s like 10, so we let him stay and just sit in the seats next to him, forfeiting our window. What I discover 10 seconds after sitting down, is that the rest of his family is across the aisle from me. They start speaking over top of us and the kid is coughing his face off (without covering his mouth as children so often do) beside poor Ilona who is trying to recover from her previous illness. As the plane starts for take off, babies are wailing, people are coughing and hacking, and I am told I am not allowed to use Airplane mode…. On the airplane. It is such a ridiculously frustrating flight but we laugh it off. I mean literally, we laughed uncontrollably for most of the flight. Finally we do arrive in Goa and it’s gorgeous, not what I expected any part of India to ever look like. There’s palm trees and beaches and it’s a much more humid type of heat than what I have grown used to in Delhi.

We take a taxi to Baga Beach which is what The Lonely Planet describes as the young person’s beach area for tourists like ourselves. We have not chosen or booked a hostel/hotel yet so we get our taxi driver to take us to a near by place to stay. The first one he takes us to is 7000 rupees ($140) a night and has a children’s playground at the front entrance. Not what we’re looking for. We tell him we’d like something much cheaper and he takes us to another spot with private beach huts, a mere 4000 rupees ($80). We tell him we can’t pay more than 1000 or 1500 at the most and he calls his friend who owns a hotel near by. We go see these accommodations and they’re very decent, but still 2000 rupees a night. It’s getting dark and we are running low on time so we agree to stay at this place (after bargaining him down to 1500 rupees) for just one night and then leave the next morning. Once we bring our bags to the room, we decide to run out quickly and grab Ilona a bug net which she is desperately in need of, especially now in the more humid climate. On our way we stumble upon this really cute little hotel called The Indian Kitchen. Their rooms are much cheaper (880 rupees) and have a very unique, colourful charm so we decide that we will definitely be leaving our current location as soon as the sun rises.
We find Ilona a bug net and go back to our room.

As we are sitting watching Twilight on my iPad, this absolutely terrifying, very loud sound of gun shots on metal starts abruptly. I am literally petrified with fear and don’t want to move. Ilona and I are both sitting there motionless looking at each other in horror when it happens again. And again. And again. We manage to find the courage to move to our beds and lock the door behind us. We notice that it’s the same pattern of sound each time, and it isn’t exactly the sound of a gunshot, no one is screaming, so we rule out the fact that someone is running around shooting people.
The noise stop after about 15 minutes of consistent on and off intervals of the mystery sound, so we manage to fall asleep.
I have one of the worst sleeps of my life because I wake up to every little bump in the night, paranoid and no peace of mind due to the fact that we never actually figured out what the noise was. It is the only night on my travels so far where I have felt unsafe, and it is awful to feel that way when you are in a foreign country and don’t even know which way the beach is yet let alone where to find help. But hey! We survived.

Alone in the Pink City

Today Ilona and I have arranged to go to Pushkar (1.5 hours from Jaipur) to ride camels in the dessert. Very unfortunately, Ilona has become very sick and cannot get out of bed let alone ride a camel, so we stay in Jaipur for the day. We call a doctor to our hotel to give her some medicine, because I am concerned it is more than a common cold, and clearly have no idea what to do in medical situations at the best of times, and definitely not in the middle of India. He comes and brings her some medication that should help but he suggests that she rest all day as well. I feel awful that she is ill, BUT I only have 7 more days in India and cannot afford to spend a full day in the hotel so I go out into Jaipur on my own.

I visit the Amber Fort, The Palace of Winds, and the Jantar Mantar Observatory.
I am lucky because my driver, Karam, is awesome and suggests that he call a tour guide to show me all of the sights. At first I feel ambivalent about it, because I don’t want to be such a tourist, like those people that wear floral print shirts, ridiculously large sunglasses and sun-hats with cameras hung from their necks, snapping photos of all the sites while following a tour guide.
I would die before I would do that, but I did ultimately decide that having a tour guide would be beneficial because, well, I have no idea what I’m doing.

The tour guide proves to be very helpful. Primarily because beggars and vendors are much less bothersome today. I look like less of an easy target with a local Indian man next I me. Thank god, because the amount of time I spend in a day attempting to figure out just how hard someone is trying to rip me off, is extreme.
I do a quick view of the Palace of Winds from the outside. It is located right on the main stretch of The Pink City, and is a tall structure (in comparison to the 1-3 story buildings lining the rest of streets) with many very small windows carved out along in rows.

He also teaches me tons about the history of Jaipur, Indian gods and goddesses, architecture and so many other things. He tells me a lot about the Amber Fort, but to be honest I don’t retain any of the information because I am so blown away by how beautiful the view is. Amber Fort is located on top of a mountain and was built close to 300 years ago. When I climb to the top floor and look out over the water and into the city, it’s impossible to think of anything else. The view is incredible and I take pictures, but I know they will never depict just how beautiful it really is to see with your own eyes.

My mama suggested that I go see the Jantar Mantar Observatory, which is probably the most interesting to me of the three sites that I visit, probably because it was way over my head. Basically, a Maharaja (King) from 300 years ago made these huge stone sculptures which are actually sundials, and can tell time accurately based solely on shadows. He also built structures that can tell you the time based on moonlight, the Astrological Zodiac for that day, and which exact latitude the city is on. It is absolutely unbelievable, and I can’t wrap my head around ever coming up with something that elaborate and so exact before electricity was even available. Again, it is helpful to have the tour guide take me through this, because I have a million questions, and everything is in Hindi.

The tour guide clearly knows what he is doing, and saves the best for last by bringing me to a textile shop before going back to the hotel. I am in heaven as I am toured around by one of the employees of the shop, who teaches me how to print fabrics with vegetable dyes and stamps, while I watch women weaving carpets in the distance. In true Indian style, I am lead into the shop after my tour where I am shown beautiful silks, embroidered cottons, and lovely traditional Rajasthani clothing. They pull out dozens of silk bed sheets for me to touch and unfold onto large tables. They are all stunning, but I find one that is teal blue with silver printed along the edges, I can’t resist. I also find an absolutely gorgeous ultraviolet blue silk with gold prints. I find out that they can tailor make any of the fabrics into clothing and I decide to go for it, I am in India. They take my measurements and sew me a Sari from new, which will take a few hours so they arrange to have it delivered to my hotel. It arrives at 9:30pm to my door and I am elated. I cannot wait to find an occasion appropriate to wear such a beautiful dress.

I return back to the hotel in time to receive Ilona’s medical results from the doctor and it looks like she will be all better in a couple of days with some medication, which is good because we leave for the sandy beaches of Southern India tomorrow morning!

Mother suggested I add something about what foods I am eating and the people I am meeting to my blog. They were not included in this entry for the following reasons:
1. I made no friends while I was following my tour guide around all day snapping photos of Indian tourist attractions.
2. My breakfast was another free breakfast that came with the hotel, and consisted of toast, and “omelette” (a plain fried egg) and masala tea. I ate no lunch because I was busy following my tour guide around all day snapping photos of Indian tourist attractions. And 3. I had dinner inside our room with Ilona because she was still too sick to get out of bed. She had a chicken broth soup which I specifically asked (so kindly) to come without any pieces of chicken in it, and instead it was 90% pieces of chicken. Basically just chicken in a brothy sauce. I ordered chicken korma for myself, and the reason I did not write about this meal, is because I have yet to order a korma in India that isn’t a mysterious green colour. When I find one, I will let you know because it will be the happiest day of my life.
That is all.

Taj Mahal, Monkeys, and Elephants

I wake up at 4:30am for two reasons;
Primarily because I am being eaten alive by mosquitos, and secondly because we are going to see the Taj Mahal at 6am. During the morning the sun is not as hot and we hope to catch the Taj with the sunrise, and with less tourists. Unfortunately there are so many tourists that we have to wait in line until the sunrise is finished. While we are waiting, we meet two girls who are also from Canada but have been travelling much longer than we have. We finally get into the Taj and take turns taking pictures of each other in front of this spectacular monument. It’s challenging to get photos with no other random tourists in the pictures with you, but I hardly care because it’s the Taj! It’s just so beautiful and I’m happy just to be here.

We return to our hotel to catch the free included breakfast, before we head out to Jaipur. This “breakfast” consists of 3 pieces of white toast and a banana. We have a 5 hour drive ahead of us to Jaipur so we eat quickly and go, eager to go Elephant riding as soon as we arrive in The Pink City.

As we approach Jaipur it becomes apparent to me that the neon is trendy here. Many women wear traditional sari’s in greens, blues, and dark pinks, but instead of the usual matching scarf, they wear neon orange with gold jewels draped over their shoulders and around their faces. I see vibrant yellow and neon pink scarves as well, but it’s clear that orange is the popular choice in this area of India.

We drive up and around a mountain filled with wild cows and missing chunks of road for 10 minutes arrive at “Monkey Temple”. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but I know there will be monkeys everywhere, so I am pleased. I walk in and have to pay a fee of 150 rupees ($2.75) to get in, as well as a donation. I leave 50 rupees. They call it a donation, but I’m pretty sure it’s just money in their pockets. I never know, and still haven’t gotten used to tipping everyone for everything all the time.
I walk up a sandy pathway between two beautiful mountains to a large stone gate. There is no line up of tourists which I am thankful for, I couldn’t wait in another line after this morning at the Taj. Once on the other side of the gate I can see a long, very tall staircase to the top of the mountain and, as predicted, monkeys all over the place. I begin to walk through the temple, still unsure of what one does at a monkey temple, but excited to find out. I follow the other visitors and start climbing the steps up towards the top of the mountain. On the way, there are numerous pools of water where I watch monkeys playing together and even some people bathing. Many visitors get tired and stop climbing to the top of the temple to take pictures, but I keep climbing as I am still curious as to what this monkey temple is all about. A small group of indian women climb to the top with me, all the while asking me questions in Hindi that I cannot understand. They see a man who works at the temple (do people work at temples?) who speaks English and he translates all their questions for me. They, like many other people I have encountered in India, are intrigued by my white skin and blonde hair and mostly just wanted to know where I come from. I tell them I am from Canada and I hear the man translate to them that I am from America. Close enough…
When they are done asking me questions they walk into another portion of the temple, and the English speaking man continues chatting with me.
He takes me into a section of the temple where I must remove my shoes to enter. I do so, and walk in to see a large altar filled with photographs and statues all centred around one large painting on a rock which is emerging out of the wall of the mountain. I am the only person in this part of the temple.
He goes on to tell me about the god Hanuman and why the people come to the temple. He tells me that if you stand and pray to Hanuman, (who is painted on the rock) he will help you fix a problem in your life, whatever you ask him for. So I do. Yes, I, anti-religion Naomi, am praying to a rock.

Afterwards the man utters a mantra and wraps a protection bracelet around my right wrist. He tells me it will keep me safe as long as I have it on, and finally he paints a small orange dot on my forehead, and puts a necklace made of carnations (I think they were carnations) around my neck. He tells me to stop at one of the pools of water on my way back down the mountain and wash my hands and face, because it’s holy Ganges water, and I do it.
For the first time in my life, I actually prayed. I didn’t just stand there with my hands together to be polite, I prayed. It was one of the strangest and most spiritual things I have ever done, and I loved every minute of it.
After the temple Ilona and I go to our long awaited Elephant ride! Unfortunately, it’s not what we’ve anticipated. The elephant ride consists of us getting on a very old elephant in a field full of cows and walking around in a small circle for 5 minutes. I feel like a small child on a pony at the fair. It was less than satisfying, but at least I can say I’ve done it. We make plans to go on a REAL elephant ride when we are in Thailand. We also lower our expectations for tomorrow, when we are supposed to be riding camels.

On Route to Agra

Today we leave to start traveling south through India. We wake up early and pack our bags, stuffing them full of newly purchased comfy pants from the day before. I’m already running out of space in my bag. Not a good sign. We eat breakfast on the rooftop patio and try for round two to order a tomato and cheese omelette, and also order a chocolate crêpe. It takes 45 minutes and we are the only people on the roof so I will never understand how that is possible, but at least our omelette comes with tomatoes this time! The crêpe not so much, we get a banana crêpe instead. So close.

We have arranged to meet a family friend of mine, Dolly, at one of her restaurants for lunch. It isn’t too far from our hotel so we decide to take a Rickshaw for the first time ever. I have never been more excited in my life. Rickshaws look SO FUN.

We’ve heard that its best to ask them for a flat rate instead of going by the meter, so we ask the first Rickshaw man we see how much it will cost to go to the Khan Market, and if he knows where Dollys restaurant, The Kitchen, is. He tells us yes, and that it will cost 250 rupees which is less than 5 dollars so we hop in, enthusiastic about our first Rickshaw adventure. It becomes blatantly obvious very quickly that our Rickshaw man is absolutely cray. He keeps saying ” Khan Market, big shopping centre. 10, 15, 20 minutes, no problem! Ok?” and each time we respond with an “Ok”, ” yes”, or “thank you”. This happens about 100 times. This only makes me love my Rickshaw experience even more, I swear I’m smiling so widely my face starts to hurt. He starts adding something about a “lunch box” into his little schpiel. “Big shopping centre. Lunch box. 10, 15, 20 minutes, no problem! Ok?” I disregard it the first few times but then I heard him say “big shopping centre. THEN khan market” somewhere in there, and instantly Ilona and I look at each other in confusion. I ask him if the big shopping centre is in the Khan market…… nope. He has decided that we need to stop at a shopping centre which is “on the way” to the Khan Market, and buy him a lunch box. We tell him no, and that we need to go straight to Khan market for OUR lunch or we will be late. He legitimately sits there for 5 minutes trying to convince us to stop at this mall and buy him lunch. We finally make him agree to take us straight to the Khan market but he tells us that now it will cost another 100 rupees because the price he originally gave us included his lunch. Whatever buddy. I’m just so excited to be there that I don’t care so we agree. We continue to the Khan Market, annoyed with the Rickshaw man. When we finally arrive it turns out he has no idea where The Kitchen is, and suggests that he just let us out in the middle of the market and we walk to find it. I tell him thats cool, but then there is no way we’re paying him 350 rupees. Instead of just lowering the price and letting us out he starts asking people on the street where the The Kitchen is, and finally figures it out and drives us there. We pay him his stupid 350 rupees and asks us for another 50 rupees for his “special service” which consisted of him taking the long way around and into the market to the restaurant. We just do it and we get out. I am over my first Rickshaw experience. Turns out he dropped us a street away from where the restaurant actually is, so we had to ask some people and walk a little bit, (so angry) but we did manage to make it on time to our lunch so whatever.
After we eat our delicious meal with Dolly, we take another Rickshaw back to our hostel. We ask the new Rickshaw man how much it will be to go to the Main Bazar (home), and he tells us it will cost a mere 120 rupees…and drives us there directly, and doesn’t ask us for lunch.
I will forever hate my first Rickshaw man.

We make it back to our hotel, grab our backpacks and get in the car that is taking us to Agra. We drive through farm country where the roads are filled with trucks and vans completely loaded up with people. I mean 20 or sometimes even 30 people crammed into one vehicle. We see more stray cows on the roads, people carrying hay in bundles on their heads, and people who knock on our car windows with cobra snakes in a basket.

When we stop to fill up our tank, at least 5 men who work at the station gather around to help our driver fill up the tank. People in the country are even more intrigued by two white girls than they are in New Delhi.
The country side is beautiful and gives me lots of opportunities to absorb more of the Indian culture. I am in love with the constant stream of surprises this country continues to offer me.

We arrive in Agra at 7:00pm and go straight to our hotel, the Agra Mahal, which is really close to the Taj Mahal (duh), and order beer and butter chicken to our room. We fall asleep soon after. There’s something about the Indian sun, or maybe I am just not used to the time change yet, but I am exhausted. We are eaten alive by mosquitos in our sleep. Thank science for malaria pills.