Apr 18, 2011

India: Relaxing in Rishikesh

Posted by Mary |

Our journey out of Delhi and on to Rishikesh did not exactly get off to an auspicious start. Despite having tickets that said New Delhi Station, we soon found out we were actually departing from Old Delhi Station. We went running for a rickshaw, and then stopped to bargain the price down. Our driver flew across Delhi, depositing us at the correct station. Of course, getting to the station is only half the battle. We had to get through security and find our train on the sign, then run to the platform. But no train was there. So Beau ran back, then we ran together out one exit and through a different security checkpoint to a different track. This was the right track, and the train was there, but now we needed to figure out where our berth was. Since we still foolishly operated under the assumption that trains ran on time, we were certain departure was imminent. So we ran down to one end of the train, then turned around and ran back down to the other end. Being calm, rational adults, we yelled at each other the entire time. Finally we found the 1A cars and a conductor gave us our berth number. We settled into our first train trip. We had opted for the highest class, which netted us a room with two beds and a door that closed and locked. Fancy-schmancy.

When we got to Haridwar in the wee hours of the morning., the station did not have any retiring rooms available, so we sat in the first-class lounge to relax for a bit. A few hours later, we set out to wander the streets, with a goal of finding food and the bus station. Food was easy to find. The bus station was easy to find. The right bus was not so easy to find. Rather than having a ticket window, you pay on the bus. I was trying to read the bus signs to find one that said Rishikesh. In retrospect, we should have just waited. Basically, as a bus pulls out of the station, someone stands in the door and yells "RishikeshRishikeshRishikeshRishikesh." People run and jump on the moving bus. And at some point, someone comes around and takes your money. Hindsight is 20/20.

We didn't have a game plan when we got to Rishikesh, other than stay on the far side of the river. When we got there, Beau picked out the Jaipur Hotel. The room was a bit pricey, but the view couldn't be better!

At the end of the suspension bridge was a little plaza where touts pounced on you, trying to henna your hands, sell you cheap bindis and trinkets. There were also several shops selling music, and during the day, they blasted that music at top volume. With our balcony door open, the sound of the market below and the music drifted into our room.

I had a plan. And that plan involved massage. We wandered through the market until I found a place where we could get 90-minute massages for Rs450. Beau and I went into a room divided by a thin curtain. Massages in India are a bit more hands-on than in America. Let's just say my pectorals were soothed. At the end of the massage, she filled her hands up with oil and went to town on my scalp. I was a hot, greasy mess when we left. I lathered up twice with shampoo, and was considering attacking my head with Dr. Bronner's.

The next day was Christmas. Beau woke me up with a gift. He had snuck out while I was showering to buy me a bronze Ganesh for my collection. I had given him his gift (zombie shooting targets) before we left America. We went for a long walk down the road toward some of the ashrams. Rishikesh is noted as a yoga center. This is where the Beatles came to study. We didn't have much time here, because we had to head back to Haridwar for the night. We had an early morning train to Agra!

The hotel in Haridwar was easily the worst place we stayed the entire trip. And not the cheapest, either. But it was close to the train station, and we were leaving at 6 a.m. Next up: Agra, Agra, and more Agra.

Assorted pictures from this leg of the trip:

Rickshaws are fun and deadly. Also, a great way to hone
your bargaining skills. Nahin. Tiis rupees!

Beau greatly dislikes this picture. Thus, I greatly like it.

Turnabout is fair play.

Apr 4, 2011

India: Delhi Days

Posted by Mary |

Yes, this is an India post. Yes, we got back from India more than two months ago. No more needs to be said on this matter.

We packed for the trip Mary-style. I stuffed Beau's pack inside of my pack. And then I stuffed everything we were bringing for the month into this Matryoshka-pack. When all was said and done, it weighed 34 pounds. On a related note, we did not pay for any luggage on any of our flights.

By the time we got to Delhi, we were pretty tired. But one does not simply fly to Delhi and catch a cab to their hotel. No, no! First, you find a prepaid cabbie who says he knows where your hotel is. Then, once you have paid at the booth and left the airport, he says he does not know this location and must call for directions. Then he hands you the cell phone and someone on the other end tells you the hotel is all full. Big snow in Europe. No planes go out, so people not leave. No room in hotel. My Hindi is limited, but I heard him call us crazy as I sat in the back seat of the taxi and kept repeating, "No, we're going to our hotel. No, take us to our hotel." Instead, they took us to a rather specious looking establishment where a "travel agent" was quick to claim that he did not know of our hotel. When I kindly pointed out his computer and told him to look it up, he managed to connect me on the phone to someone who said the hotel was full. I badgered another address out of this person, then returned to the cab. I sat down in the back, crossed my arms and just kept repeating, "B Block. B Block." Our cab driver got mad and decided to drop us off in the middle of Pharganj to teach us a lesson. Too bad we could see our hotel's neon sign from the street corner he dumped us on.

Needless to say, the hotel was not full. The room was questionable but cheap. We later drew a line along the border of the watermark on the wall to watch its progress. The television didn't work, the showerhead fell off, the computers in the Internet cafe were reportedly all broken, and the restaurant was closed. But it was cheap!

You know what does make me happy? Indian set breakfast. Stuffed paratha, dahi and achar. (That's bread, yogurt curd and pickled vegetables.) The hotel next door to us had a nice restaurant we visited most days for breakfast.

Sunny breakfast on the rooftop. It's the little things that make Alaskans so happy in the wintertime.

We spent some of our time wandering the streets of Pharganj, looking for Indian clothing. These turned out to be some of the best clothing bargains we found on the trip. Despite the questionable quality of Hotel Saina, I thought that Pharganj was a good base for exploring Delhi. We could reach the metro by walking 5 minutes in one direction, and the New Delhi train station was 10 minutes in the other.

We braved the metro several times. It must be said that the Indian metro is insane. I'm no slouch when it comes to public transport. But this was utter chaos. People were pushing to get out of the cars while the waiting crowds were pushing to get in. At the other end of the metro, we found our first McDonald's. Behold the infamous (and tasty) Chicken Maharajah Mac.

On our final day in Delhi, we loaded up our packs and checked out of the hotel for a day of sightseeing before an evening train.

First stop: the Red Fort.

Inside one of the museums, we found this picture of the Komagata Maru. Not the Kobayashi Maru. Yes, even in India, I find ways to make Star Trek jokes. You're welcome.

After the fort - lunch! I have a fondness for American fast food chains in foreign countries, so when we saw a Subway, it was a no-brainer.

Actually, there could have been brains involved. Just no beef or pork. This is why I play vegetarian in most foreign countries.

We visited the Jantar Mantar. This great architectural and astronomical monument was also home to an incident involving ripped pants, which necessitated a change in a public bathroom. It was fouler that you can possibly imagine.

Beau snapped this photo when I emerged from the bathroom. I then told him we would never speak of this incident again.

Being a nerd, Beau enjoyed the geeky side of the Jantar Mantar.

No, I'm not trying to climb up the sundial. Certainly not while wearing a knee brace, and definitely not with a heavy pack on!

We had been curious about some of the items for sale in shops. For instance, to my American eyes, this guy appeared to be selling condoms. Since India is not the cleanest of countries and people just tend to drop their trash wherever they are standing, we solved this mystery when I picked up an empty packet one day. Verdict: individual pouches of chewing tobacco.

And that was it for Delhi. Next up: A few wrong turns on the way to Rishikesh.