13 Dec

The Old One, Two Knock Out Punch

We entered the ring with more bravado than we felt. India in one corner, looming large and wearing her well deserved big, shiny, heavyweight champions belt…us in the other corner wearing our six months of travel like it really mattered.

She took the first punch…Delhi…a hazy, smoggy, smelly, garbage-filled, poverty ridden soupy mess of a city that left us breathless, reeling and wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into. Dazed, we wandered into a tour agency and signed up for a 3 week itinerary that would see us through Rajasthan, on to Agra and Varanasi and leave us in Goa in the south.

First though, we would head to Amritsar, see the Golden Temple and recharge in our five star hotel birthday splurge. We came out swinging, sure that our new plan would throw some punches her way and give us some defense from any more of her heavy blows.

It was immediately clear that she was not going to back down…nothing could have prepared me for driving on the roads. All manner of vehicles loaded (and I mean loaded) with cargo and people careening down the roads, passing whenever they like, wherever they like, missing each other within inches. Surprisingly, I got quite used to seeing a bus or lorry hurtling straight for us and pulling in at the very last moment. J and I took to sitting one behind the other on the passenger side thinking that if we did get smoked it would be the drivers side that would sustain the most damage…small comfort, I know.

We were brave though, kept our chins up, our elbows in and our faces covered…we weren’t going out that easily.

But India kept peppering us with small jabs to our middle. Promises of beautiful forts crowning great cities and towns in the desert proved to be great bastions of once-upon-a-time in more dirty cities and un-walkable towns. We defended, finding bright spots in the bleak outlook, trying to make the most of what we had to work with but India is a very, very experienced fighter and she found a way to break through and knock the wind out of us…we both came down with colds.

For a few days we managed to fight on, avoiding the worst of the jabs and sleeping as much as we could but the knock out punch came when we realized we could not go on the tiger safari in Ranthambore…we were both miserable, Jason slept every moment he wasn’t in the car and I had been crying for two days. We looked up from the mat to see the ref holding India’s hand high in the air…another win for India.

We’re leaving. We’re just not having any fun and putting another month in here seems like a high risk investment with a low possibility of return.

As you read this we are on a plane to Thailand. We have a line on a happy place there where we plan on spending a couple of weeks hanging out and figuring out our plan for the next five months. We’ll let you know what we come up with.

01 Dec

Happy Birthday To Us!

The rest of India faded into the background as we entered through the doors. The flowery scent of incense greeted us, pulling us into the calm wood interior.

Checking in was made extra special as the manager was summoned to greet us personally…you see, we had emailed ahead to let the manager know that we were staying at his luxury, five-star hotel to celebrate both of our birthdays (end of November/beginning of December) and to mark the six month point of our trip (already?). He greeted us warmly, told us how pleased he was that we would share this celebration with them and had two attendants usher us to our room.

Ista Amritsar The room was beautiful!! Wood floors, real furniture, a soft (!) bed with real linens (no holes or stains), soft music playing, windows that looked out onto the pool below and a pillow menu…yes, a menu of pillows to suit every sleep style! And the bathroom!! Sheer heaven! All tiled and spotless with a huge, wonderful shower sporting endless hot water, pretty smelling soaps and lotions, and big fluffy towels to dry off with.

Ista Amritsar Welcome But the crowning glory was the young man they sent with a chilled bottle of champagne to accompany the chocolate birthday cake set on the table….oh my god, it was sooooo good!!

Cheers, Ista Amritsar We didn’t leave the room all afternoon, spending all our time cleaning and preening and lounging and enjoying every amenity the room had to offer. We finally emerged, scrubbed clean and smelling like I don’t think we have since we left home, to make our way to the lounge where another kind young man made me a tasty, long awaited gin and tonic.

Dinner was excellent (goat curry with rice and chapati) and, just as we were finishing up, the manager appeared again to ask if we would like a special meal prepared for the following evening. Seriously, a special menu…just for us? How could we say no?

Ista Amritsar Breakfast We slept like angels that night. In the morning we had tea in bed, ordered breakfast to our room and lounged some more until we left to visit the Golden Temple. We returned to lounge around Poolside Lounger, Ista Amritsar the pool for the afternoon. The pool boy took time to show us all around the pool area and then left us to lounge on the way-too-comfy lounge bed poolside. Seriously….a pool boy!

Special Menu, Ista Amritsar Dinner was amazing. All the staff greeted us as we arrived at the restaurant and were ushered to our own special dining room where our private waiter introduced himself  and the manager and chef stopped by to say hello…seriously, private waiter!! There was a printed menu for us – fish tikka, basil grilled paneer, mutton With Chef and Server, Ista Amritsarcurry, chole masala, gulab jamun with ice cream…just to name a few. The meal was amazing – we left absolutely stuffed and more than thankful – when the bill came all that was listed was the bottle of wine we had enjoyed…the chef had prepared the meal as a gift to us!

Relaxing Morning, Ista Amritsar We finished off the chocolate cake for breakfast the next morning and lounged around the room for as long as possible…checking out at the last possible moment, not wanting to leave our temporary slice of heaven.

As a parting gift, the hotel had a car and driver drop us off at our next destination…a ‘normal’ backpacker hotel in the city center. The driver must have gotten quite a chuckle when he saw the hotel that he was dropping us at…but it was back to reality for us.

25 Nov

Smelly Delhi

Well…we’re here. And it’s actually not as smelly as I had expected. Don’t get me wrong…it smells, but not everywhere, not all the time. Certainly the burning garbage in the street smells, and the ‘public toilets’ smell (no, I haven’t actually been in one…mostly they look like walls along which everyone urinates…unavoidable and gross), and the ever-present pollution smells but it doesn’t smell in our hotel (thanks to copious amounts of incense burned in the lobby) and that I am thankful for.

So far I have already seen almost every horrible thing I had imagined I would see in India…and it’s only been three days. Almost all the images from the books I’ve read, the movies I’ve seen (except the Bollywood movies) and the stories I’ve heard have shown themselves to be true.

Garbage is absolutely everywhere…cows roam the streets but miraculously do not get hit by the trucks, cars, taxis, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, pedal-rickshaws, bicycles or hand-carts…men scatter among garbage ‘fields’ to poop in the morning…a man with no legs (walking on his hands) solicits alms on the train platform…there are beggars everywhere – young children in the streets and intersections, mothers with babies on the ‘sidewalks’, religious zealots roaming…people live in squats that I could not have imagined…I can taste the pollution.

P1060046 I can’t take pictures. It seems wrong to whip out a camera to capture anything that I have seen…and besides who really wants to see pictures like that?  Well, I took this one – showing the metal detector on the street at the start of the ‘bazaar’ area near where we are staying. We are made to walk through detectors like these at some of the monuments we have visited. They almost invariably beep…but no-one does anything about it.  Makes me chuckle.

I feel hemmed in…straight-jacketed. Normally we would walk everywhere in a city, but here that is not possible. We tried but the traffic, pollution, poverty and odor made it a very uncomfortable walk.

P1060025 We did visit some of the sights of the city. One day we took an auto-rickshaw to the Red Fort and another we took a day tour of the city to see some of the other sights. The temples are beautiful, calm and clean…the Ghandi sites are well maintained and very interesting and taking the bus through the city showed us what the rest of the city looked like (remarkably similar, although somewhat better than where we are staying).

This is certainly no romanticized India…so far, I don’t like it…we’ll see what happens outside of the city.