Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I was overwhelmed in my first hours on the India Sub-continent. It was hotter than I expected, it was busy, it was polluted, it was loud, and it was dirty. I couldn’t find anything and was constantly being haggled and scammed. After I got over the bad things there is something very romantic about the country. Families and groups are very important in the country. Families are big and loud and very involved in each other’s lives. While, there is separation between men and women, friends seem to be closer than others I have encountered. You often see men embracing, hugging, touching, and holding hands as friends. There is no sense of boundaries, which make Indians very intimate with each other and visitors. When I was standing in line for a drink, there were people coming up next to me. When I was standing in another line for train tickets people gathered on both sides of me as I tried to work to try and get out of Delhi. It was very difficult being a solo traveler in India; I think being alone made me more of a target by Indians trying to make a few rupees. I hope of future respective on India I will be reminded of the amazing things I did see, such as the Taj Mahal and Monkey Palace. I hope to learn to accept the scams, lack of personal space, heat, and pollution.
India Quick Observations
- I have seen one dead cow, that has been dead for a while on the side of the road
- In the alleyway to my hotel, there was a small child on a small horse
- More than one armless beggar came up to the van window on the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel
- It is really hot, much like Phoenix in the summer, with more pollution
- I had about 27 near death experiences in the van from the airport to the hotel
- There are stunning gardens throughout the city, and Hindu temples for that matter
- There have been about 16,000 inquiries for money
- There are some fantastic colors in clothing, plants, and people
- One of the amenities of the hotel is a non-working television
- Everything is run on commission. A man stopped the catering people on the train for me and was paid 5 rupee in front of me.
- The old women beggars are very persistent about getting money out of you; they even do it on the train.
- If you take out your camera out, people will want you to take their picture, over and over again
- Agra has tons of cows walking the streets, they look much healthier than the cows in Delhi
- It is VERY common to see men holding hands in public, especially amongst younger men. It is not a sign of homosexuality, but rather a sign of affection between friends or family. Women and men rarely show public displays of affection between each other
- I saw many camels walking down roads in Agra and Jaipur
- It is frustrating when you don’t ask for a service, such as a tour guide. They follow you around a monument telling you interesting nuggets of information and expect to be paid. It is more frustrating when they ask for more rupees.
Facts about India
- Cows are sacred, they milk them but they are not eaten in any circumstances even at McDonalds
- There are 1.1 billion people in the country, second most behind China. India will pass in population in a couple of decades
- They use the Rupee. There are currently around 47 India Rupees for each US dollar
- There are more “love marriages” occurring in India, while arranged Hindu marriages are still most common
- There were about 6800 dowry related deaths last year, usually the husbands family kills the woman, rather than suicide by the woman (there are reports the number is much higher than 6800)
- Homosexuality amongst men is highly illegal and carries fines and imprisonment, however there are no laws against homosexuality amongst women.
- The formal caste system, although weakened by prosperity, is still in affect in society. There are five castes: Priests and teachers, Warriors, Merchants, Laborers and Untouchables.
- I saw several monkeys in Agra and Jaipur hanging out on buildings and power lines.
Delhi is busy, polluted, busy, busy, and busier. But, with 14 million people it shouldn’t be slow. There are thousands of touts asking for your money and even more green and yellow auto-rickshaws dotting every road. There are confusing bazaars that create mazes, making even the simplest streets unmanageable. There are constant, I mean constant people asking to take you on a tour, show you a site, introducing themselves, asking you where you are from, and welcoming you to India.
Delhi, and India for that matter are very confusing. When I was attempting to organize a train to Agra, I was mis-informed by a man claiming to work for the train company. He was scamming me, and I knew it from the start when he said there was a national holiday the next day and I had to go to the “Ministry of Tourism” to book a train ticket. When I got there they said all trains were booked from Delhi to Agra, while only looking up one of the trains, when there are train nearly every hour on that route. Then they gave a pitch for one of their tours, a total hoax, and I left as quickly as possible. I thought to go check out the buses and went to what I thought was the main bus station. After an enquiry, the long-range buses run from another bus station. When I went there it was completely disorganized, and no quality information was given to me. In fact, the long-range bus stop was in a very bad area, which I felt unsafe. I finally got back to the hotel, after getting lost again, and went to use the very slow, but free internet service. I wasn’t able to figure out the train company online system, it was more confusing that then train station. The man running the system showed me how to get to the legitimate train booking station, which was closed by this time of the day and which trains to try and get on.
When I woke up the next morning I headed down to the proper spot, and he was completely right about where the foreigner booking station was. I wanted to get on one train, which wasn’t able to be booked from the station, and went down to a booth where I found the train to be fully booked. I went back up to the foreigner booking station and booked another train later in the afternoon. I was feeling much better and got on the train, the very hot and crowded train to Agra and a reasonable hour. The train station is incredibly chaotic people were sleeping, hanging out, and trying to scam tourists.
Agra has a population of about 1.5 million and is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Agra and Uttar Pradesh are very important to the India political system, as it has produced half of the prime ministers in the country. The center of Agra is the Taj Mahal. Emperor Shah Jahan built it after his second wife died during childbirth. He started building the Taj in 1631 and it was completed in 1653, just before his third son overthrew Jahan from power.
My hotel here is really nice. I have an “Indian Toilet”, hot water, a television, and most importantly air conditioning. My main mission in Agra was to go to the Agra Fort and Taj Mahal. Both of these very famous buildings are the cornerstone of the town and India. My first full day in the city was doing some organizing, because the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday. When trying to organize the travel I was once again let astray by a rickshaw driver. He took me to a ‘travel agency’ that was charging a commission to book tickets on the bus and train. I stood very tough and got out of there as quickly as the red flags were going up. They were promising to deliver the tickets to my hotel for only a small deposit. I completely questioned if the tickets were going to show up. It is a very common scam run in India. I did end up booking a bus ticket to Jaipur on an air-conditioned bus, so the outcome was good.
How do you describe the Taj Mahal. There are pictures of it everywhere in India; the photos always seem to be fake. I went to the Taj on my second full day in India, but there were glimpses of the 1st Wonder of the World on my first day. I was working around the city a bit and looked up and the Taj was in the distance. My heart began racing, and I patted my driver on the shoulder saying, “There is the Taj!” He replied gently “Yes.” What seemed unreal is the Taj looked just as fake from a distance as it did in all the photos. It looked completely imaginary. On the day of my visit to the Taj I had arranged to have a driver for the day for many of the sites around Agra. He was to pick me up at 6 a.m. for the sunrise over the Taj. We arrived at the Western Gate and I bought the ticket and went in. Video photography is extremely limited, and I didn’t bring the other still camera so I didn’t get a lot of content while there. It really is a place a person should see, for it is truly wonderful. There are gardens around the complex. There are scammers that walk up to you, explain something about the area and then ask you for money. There are optical illusions between the mosque and outer buildings and the actual mausoleum. The marble used to construct the building is strong and in incredibly good shape. There are different carvings, symbols, and a whole lot of love poured into the construction. I have never been to such an interesting place, and I am not sure I will see another.
After the Taj Mahal my driver took me to another, older moseulem that was built mainly by the Iranians called Chinikarauza. It was several decades older than the Taj, and was still in its complete original state. It was wearing down a bit, but still had a very interesting charm. The difference with this building is that it was built without any braces, just blocks of plaster, marble, and ancient glue holding it together.
Another interesting site was something called the Baby Taj or Itimaduddaulah. It holds the bodies of the family of the emperor and architect of the Taj Mahal. It is similar to the Taj, with the symmetry, gardens, and use of other buildings of worship, but on a much smaller scale, minor price, and fewer visitors. There are also great views of the Taj Mahal from the Baby Taj.
Then it was time to sell me something. Drivers are often paid a good commission for bringing people into shops and restaurants. I was first taken to a rug shop, which was interesting, but I am not in the market for a carpet. I then went to a fabric shop, embroidery bazaar, jewelry store and finally a marble making shop. They often do a good job of making you feel like you are ruining their lives or wasting their time if you don’t buy something. I don’t give into these people, I don’t think they will remember me and I certainly won’t spend my precious rupees on something I don’t need or find very tacky. It is part of the culture, so I am sure it is something I need to at least see, however frustrated it makes me.
Jaipur is the entrance to the state of Rajasthan. The city of over 2.6 million is known to most as the “Pink City.” The city is just as congested and polluted as the rest of India, but has its own charm. The main sites of the city are the Old City (Pink City), which still has a barrier in many spots. Other sites include Hawa Mahal, City Palace, Jantar Mantar, Central Museum, amongst others.
I enjoyed being in Jaipur. The city is much more relaxed than the other stops I have made in India, but still busy and congested. The city has had rulers that were more progressive and built quality streets and of course the Old City has and amazing charm. I wanted to see the City Palace, which includes a lot of history. Jaipur is a fairly new addition to India, being built in 1727. It was really its own kingdom for many years, up until India became its own nation in 1947. It still has a royal family that can trace itself back many years. The royal family, weapons, dress, and transportation are all on display at the City Palace. One of the most interesting things for me was the Sarvatobhadra which has two large silver jars reported to be the largest pieces of silver in the world. Each of the jars can hold over 900 gallons or over 2000 liters. They are about 5ft 4in tall and weigh a lot.
Another impressive place was Galta or Monkey Palace. This is a holy pilgrimage center has a temple dedicated to the Sun God and natural spring. It crests the ridge over a picturesque gorge and provides impressive view of the city. As the legend goes Sage Galav performed difficult penance here. The reason it is more commonly known as Monkey Palace is because at dusk thousands of monkeys converge on the site, and play with some of the visitors.
I was feeling refreshed and sick in Jaipur. This was my first time being sick on this trip, and it came at me very mild, just some strange stomach issues, no vomit or diorreaha. My hotel was very comfortable, run by a very nice man and his wife. The put a lot of time and money into keeping the rooms sparkling, having true hot water, western toilets, cooled rooms (by air con or desert coolers), televisions, and a place that seemed to be safe and lacking any sort of scams. It was true comfort and made my final days in India wonderful!
There are hundreds of photos on my facebook page!