Dec 30, 2012

Beautiful Bundi

Posted by Mary |

We made it to Bundi. Not going to lie - sleeper class overnight from Agra was not great. We did get some sleep though, and all survived. The only casualty was Brighton's sleep sack, which apparently got left on the train.

Bundi is, so far, pretty amazing. We've seen more westerners than we did in Delhi, which is strange. The fabric shops are great, and I've already bought two lengths. I may or may not locate a tailor before we leave. Great restaurants, too, and a very relaxed vibe.

I also finally bought my first sari of the trip. A green, blue and white one called my name. When I saw the choli piece was green and white polka dots, I was done. Terri has asked me to force her to buy fabric and get a salwar kameez set made before we leave. I guess shopping is my gift.

Dec 28, 2012

Heard in Delhi

Posted by Mary |

Don't think of it as hazy.
Think of it as a built-in Instagram filter.
--Me, on Delhi's
air quality

After an eventful morning, we left Delhi and took a train to Agra. The hotel seems to have gone downhill a bit since my last trip here. Tomorrow we check out, and then I will spend the day lounging around while Terri and Brighton do the tourist thing. I'm not paying to go back to the Taj Mahal. Then it's on to Bundi, via an overnight train. Sleeper class. Um, yay?

Dec 27, 2012

Heard in Delhi

Posted by Mary |

Their spatial dynamics are remarkably complex.
--Terri, on the skills
of autorickshaw drivers

Last night I told my husband I hadn't bought any new clothes yet. It wasn't a lie. However, on my way to dinner, I got distracted by a shop and ended up ordering two custom salwar kameez sets. It was a very good deal - less than $20 for custom-made pants, top and scarf. I picked out the two prettiest fabric sets they had.
After visiting the Red Fort today, we went back to Paharganj to pick them up. They are gorgeous. Brighton ended up ordering a set for herself too. I'm amazed that Terri hasn't decided to join in on the action yet.

We decided to go to a show called Dances of India tonight. After haggling, we got into an autorickshaw. The driver turned on the radio and started blasting some Bon Jovi. Normally I might be offended at the assumption that I wanted American music, but I couldn't resist singing along with "You Give Love a Bad Name" at the top of my lungs. Sadly, the dance show closed down a year ago, but the rickshaw ride remains a memorable part of the evening.

Tomorrow we take off for Agra. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll only be there for one night this time.

Dec 26, 2012

Touchdown: Delhi

Posted by Mary |

We arrived in Paharganj last night. Unlike the last trip, our hotel actually sent a driver, so we could avoid taking a taxi from the airport. Hotel is ... acceptable. Spent the day shopping in the bazaar with Terri and Brighton. I saw a knee-high Ganesh statute. I didn't purchase it, but only because I don't fancy hauling it around India for a month. Lord help us all if I find one in Amritsar on the last leg of our trip.

A shopkeeper has already informed me that the problem is that I'm too big for pants. Thank you. Thank you very much. I've been restrained in my shopping thus far. Brighton's ATM card won't work, so I'm playing sugar momma for her during the trp, and she can repay me later. We plan to just rotate the water and TP purchases.

On a sadder note, I was informed today of the suicide of a Fairbanks friend. Rest in peace.

Dec 23, 2012

The adventure begins again

Posted by Mary |

Just in time for the end of my last set of India posts....

It's only 8:30 at night, but I'm getting ready for bed. My friends Terri and Brighton are at my house in Anchorage, also getting ready. Tomorrow morning, we will head to the airport and begin a journey to Minneapolis, Paris and then Delhi. We'll be on the road for 4 weeks, traveling through Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and more.

I'm excited to be traveling again, excited to return to India, excited for another chance to absorb the country. I'll miss Beau, Nibbles and my bed. And cheeseburgers.

Namaste, bitches. We'll see you in Delhi.

Dec 12, 2012

Zipping around Jodhpur

Posted by Mary |

Worst title pun ever. You'll see.

We got ourselves an early morning bus out of Mount Abu, headed to Jodhpur. As previously mentioned, the bus got down the hill a LOT faster than it went up it. Perhaps a bit too fast, as evidenced by the child puking out of the window constantly in front of me. His father kept wiping the puke off his face with the bus curtains. I promptly traded seat with Beau and took the aisle seat. I'm not touching those curtains. What he doesn't know won't hurt him.

The city view ain't half bad.
The bus arrived in Jodhpur, pulled to the side of the road and unceremoniously kicked us out. Not at a bus station. Oh, no, that would be too easy. No, we were on the side of the road, with two other white girls (one of whom had actually been bitten by a stranger in Mount Abu. At least I only puked my guts out.). All that whiteness made us look like a giant pile of rupees, and the touts were all over us trying to get us into their rickshaws. Fortunately, our hotel had said they would pick us up, so I called them. Unfortunately, I had no idea where we were. I started walking down the road, trying to describe what I saw, to no avail. Beau and the two girls trailed behind me, with the rickshaw drivers following them. I was the majorette in the world's most demented parade.

Finally, I came upon a woman selling cigarettes on the side of the road. I marched up to her and handed her my phone, much to her confusion. After some pantomiming, she took the phone and finally told the hotel owner where we were. We sat by the side of the road to await his arrival, and most of the rickshaw drivers gave up. The owner finally pulled up on his motorcycle, which seemed a questionable choice of vehicles for transporting people back to his hotel. It turns out that his plan was to find us and then bargain for some rickshaws. However, the two drivers that were still waiting near us said they had called dibs and refused to be bargained down much. Beau and I squeezed into one rickshaw with one of the girls while the other hopped on the back of the motorcycle. I suspect that her friend was wondering if that would be the last we ever saw of her.

He hates this picture.
We arrived at the haveli and checked into our room, which had a swing. Yes, I chose this place because of the swing. You would have too. Since there was no restaurant, we wandered down to the marketplace to find some food. And this, weeks into the trip, is when we had our first brush with truly sketchy behavior. As we walked down the road, I became aware that there were several men around us who were walking at our exact same pace. I pulled Beau to a stop and immediately began a fake argument with him. It doesn't really matter what you're saying if you're gesticulating wildly and raising your voice, so I may have screamed and poked him in the chest and crossed my arms a lot as I told him what was going on. The group of men had all pulled to a halt by a car a few yards down the road and were waiting, so we carried on for a bit until they gave up and left. We were far more cautious as we proceeded to dinner, and I gawked at all the shiny things in windows on our way back to the hotel.

Hello, fort.
The next day we took a rickshaw up to the Mehangarh Fort, which towers over Jodhpur.
Giant spikes are great elephant deterrent.

Audio tour, in English. Score.

It's got lots of history and all that, but I wanted to go there for one reason: ziplining.

There I go!
Who can resist flying through the air? Who can resist flying through the air over a fort in India? Not me!

Incoming Beau.

Seems legit.
It didn't even matter that the zip line seemed to be held together with duct tape.

Beau, showing excellent tucking form.

After we were done, we headed had a late lunch at the fort and headed back into the city. We had not showered in Mount Abu because of the cold temperatures and open window in the bathroom. We were determined to shower. The hotel had other plans. First, we couldn't get the shower to work. No combination of turning various knobs would get any water to come out. We finally called in help, and the owner's mother shuffled in and spent 10 minutes fiddling with knobs. She got the water working and told us to wait for hot water. It finally arrived, and Beau hopped in for a shower. When he got out, he sadly announced that the water smelled like pee. It was true. I may have wiped myself down with baby wipes after my shower.

We wandered through the market again so that I could gawk at shiny things. I got drawn into a sari shop and allowed Beau to pick out a banjara sari to purchase. Best of all, I found a fixed-price shops. Items with prices listed on them! No need to haggle! I bought a few items, most notably a set of wrist-to-elbow bangles. I desire to look as peasanty as possible.

The next morning, we tried to get breakfast in the hotel. We went up to the roof restaurant, which was empty. The owner came up and asked us what we wanted, then brought up a tray. It was pretty obvious that they were just giving us their food. We sat on the roof, at the base of the Mehangarh, eating toast and jam, looking over the blue city, pondering the great mysteries of this country. Like, why do all the cats look so raggedy? Beau said they look like Snake Plissken. That's why I love him, folks.

I think this view is worth the $20 spent on an afternoon of zip lines.

Up next: An Alaska reunion in Pushkar

Because smoking is the worst of your health issues in India.
My ego requires at least three pictures of myself per post. Quota met.

India never ceases to amaze with its intricately carved buildings.

Dec 10, 2012

Extended stay in Mount Abu

Posted by Mary |

After leaving Udaipur, we hopped on a bus and headed to the hill station of Mount Abu. My dear friend Rachel had recommended this as an excellent place to visit - more popular with Indians than with tourists. Sold! The bus ride there was mostly pleasant until we hit the base of the hill. It's a long, winding road up the hill. It took us more than an hour to get up the hill, yet only about 20 minutes to get back down when we left a few days later. By the time we got to the top of the hill, Beau's stomach was unsettled from the twisting and turning. We arrived at the Shri Ganesh hotel, and I took care of business while he rested. Signing the guest register, I noticed that the people who had checked in right before us were from Fairbanks. Small world!

Rather than subject Beau to food smells while he was feeling ill, I went to the roof to order lunch. The man sitting at the other table was sporting a Yukon Quest hat, so I rightly assumed that he was from Fairbanks. He and his girlfriend had just arrived to India, so I spent some time writing down some numbers and a few key phrases in Hindi for them. Back in the room, Beau was still ill. I took full advantage to snuggle up to him and steal his body heat all night long. Those hill stations get cold!

The next day, he was feeling much improved, so we headed out to view the Dilwara Temples, a complex of Jain temples carved out of white marble. They were amazingly beautiful. They banned all photography inside the temples, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Or check it out here.

Not the Dilwara Temples.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. If you're ever in Mount Abu, do stop there. It's like Hinduism, explained in dioramas designed by someone who has enjoyed one too many bhang lassis. After the side trip, we decided to go on a sunset hike. The hotel owner promised it would be easy, even for someone with a knee brace. Perhaps climbing up giant boulders is easy for other people in knee braces, but I found it a bit challenging. After enjoying the view, we headed back down to the hotel, where I checked my e-mail and confirmed that I had a job interview set up via hotel telephone in Jodhpur for the following night. Beau and I retired to the room to enjoy some television.

I liked this guy best.

Sometime that night, I woke up to a rumbling in my stomach. I tried to find my way to the toilet room, but the light switches didn't seem to be working. I pounded at them in frustration, and Beau said he'd take care of it. Now, I don't want to get too graphic, but when you're traveling in India, you do a constant self-analysis. Is this it? Do I have Delhi belly? Is it just regular diarrhea? Well, I'm happy to report that when you finally have Delhi belly, you KNOW you have Delhi belly. I was still in the tiny toilet room, in the dark, when it became clear that I was going to be sick. There's no way I was going to be sick in that room in the dark. Beau was still trying to figure out the lights when I ripped open the door and came crawling out on my hands and knees, heading for the bucket under the sink. Once my stomach was fully empty, I crawled back to bed while Beau prepared the first of many cups of Alka Selter. When you're traveling, ALWAYS bring Alka Seltzer. It settles your stomach, delivers painkillers and helps to rehydrate you, all in one fell swoop. (Not a paid endorsement, but Bayer should totally get on their game and mail me a box or something.)

By the next morning, it was obvious that we weren't going anywhere. Beau went to town to find me painkillers, and came back with sweetened lemon juice, salted biscuits and a topped-up sim card for our cell phone. I informed UAF that I would need to do the interview via cell phone, and we setlled into the room for the day. You might think that we were lucky to get sick in one of the few hotels that had a television in the room. You might think that we were even luckier that one station showed a lot of English-language shows. But they only showed Wipeout and Cris Angel: Mindfreak, and I certainly didn't feel lucky after watching back-to-back episodes for a few hours.

At 11:30 pm, I was coherent enough to answer the cell phone and begin my job interview. We only got cut off once, which seems a bit of a miracle, and then I crawled into bed. Since I'd been sick (and thus a furnace) the second night, Beau had taken advantage of my body heat. This night, we hid under four blankets to stay warm. Being sick has its advantages. We had to get up early for a bus ride in the morning.
Bundle of bones and flesh plus floating red breast = human being.
Sadly, not many pictures exist from this leg of the trip. We weren't allowed to take photos in the Dilwara Temples, and I may have killed Beau if he took pictures of me huddled in bed, watching Wipeout.

I have no idea what is going on here.

Next up: Zip lines and sketchy showers in Jodhpur

After the trauma of getting out of Agra, we were prepared to be extra-impressed with Udaipur. And boy oh boy, Udaipur did not disappoint. The city is built around a lake and was the setting for much of the James Bond film Octopussy.

New Year's Eve view from our balcony. Cue the fireworks.

Due to the Gujjar strikes, we arrived on New Year's Eve and found our way to our Dream Heaven Guest House. As the daylight drained from the sky, we settled into an amazing room with a lake view and a balcony. Although our bathrom had two showerheads, I opted to steal the first shower all for myself and washed away the grime of a 20+ hour bus ride. I wandered onto our balcony while Beau showered, and watched with joy as hotels around the lake began setting off fireworks. I called to Beau to hurry up and join me. The complete bliss of being in India, being with the man that I love, watching fireworks light up across a just all added up to perfection. I wrapped my arms around Beau and started telling him how much I loved him, but all I could think about was my knee. Why was I thinking about my knee at a time like this?

Well, I had to figure out which knee to kneel on so I could ask Beau to marry me. And when he said yes (or rather, when he asked, "Does this mean we're really engaged now?"), we celebrated, and then he asked if we needed to buy a ring. That's when I directed him to my neck pillow, and he discovered that I had ordered a ring before we left and been carting it around the whole time.

Engaged! I ordered a thali for the special occasion.

We went up to the rooftop restaurant for dinner. Hotels all around the lake were having parties and competing to blast their music as loudly as possible. This was especially amusing, given that they all seemed to have the same cd with just a few American songs mixed into it. Thus, "I Got A Feeling" by the Black-Eyed Peas was the theme song of the night and has somehow become "our" song. I would have guessed that "My Humps" would have been most likely Black-Eyed Peas song to represent our love, but you can't argue with what the universe throws your way.

On New Year's Day, we set out on a walk across the lake to wander through the shops. We found a music shop, and since we'd been talking about Indian musical instruments for a while, we decided to look inside quickly just to see if there were any prices marked. The shopkeeper quickly hustled over from across the street and started showing off his wares. Bablu came highly recommended, so I had some trust in the guy to sell quality instruments. Having been engaged for all of 12 hours, I was still developing my psychic connection to Beau. So when Bablu showed us two different sitars, I started trying to set up a mental connection to figure out which one Beau wanted. Duh, of course he wanted the electric sitar.

Is very good bargain. Good for you, good for me. Very good.

I set to work bargaining, and Bablu whipped out his calculator and started trying to figure out if I was ripping him off. We went from Rs25,000 to Rs20,000, which is good, but not quite good enough for me. Bablu told me that I was his first customer of the year, so he was offering me his very best deal so that he would have good karma all year long. Bam. There was my edge. "First customer, first SALE of the year, very good karma all year long!" With that, we shook hands on Rs19,000 and Beau was the proud owner of an electric sitar, plus a fiberglass carrying case, all the accessories and replacement parts he'd ever need, and a few lessons with Bablu to boot.

We wandered back across the bridge and decided to check out the cafe next to our hotel for lunch. Dubbed "Soul Meet Cafe," it featured a cushion-covered terrace with numerous lounging backpackers and a sound system that pumped out a constant stream of trance and/or reggae music. Therefore, it was no surprise to find Special Lassi on the drink menu. For any police officers or my mother, I did not get it. Mostly because the waiter told me they didn't have the "stuff" to make it. A special lassi is also known as a bhang lassi, and is made with a liquid derivative of marijuana. It's legal in many parts of India, and Rajasthan has many licensed bhang shops where one could partake. But, as I stated, I did not get it. Because they were out. They were also, it would seem, out of food, and their chef had gone for food but hadn't come back, so we left and got lunch elsewhere.

Lassi of unknown origins.

Later that night, we decided to get dinner. On the way to dinner, we stopped at the Soul Meet Cafe for a pre-dinner drink. Don't judge. My special lassi arrived, and to be honest, it tasted pretty gross. Down the hatch it went, though. As I was drinking it on the terrace, I heard a huge rustling in the trees, and suddenly a monkey landed on our table and ran across it. Not knowing how strong the special lassi was, I asked Beau if that really just happened.

Monkey. Great in theory, until you're tripping balls on a
special lassi and it decides sashay across your table.

Yeah, that really just happened. For the record, it took a while for the lassi to kick in. Then I wanted to lay on the bed and listen to music (The Doors and the Grateful Dead, mostly) and talk about foreign policy and investment strategies. Then I suddenly wanted to stop talking and go to bed. An interesting experience, but not one I'm likely to repeat.

The restaurant roof was bliss.

We spent the rest of our time in Udaipur relaxing on our hotel roof, taking boat rides, trying to get pants made (my Hindi may not be great, but the guy clearly called me "jumbo" in English), having a mild breakdown after trying to get pants made, getting pants made at another tailor, and buying bus tickets for our next leg. For the record, India is hard on pants. Nearly every pair I had developed holes, probably from the vigorous laundry techniques.

Up next: Mount Abu and then some more Mount Abu

This city is just so damn gorgeous.

The views from the roof were amazing.

The rooftop dining situation. Get the muesli for breakfast.
Private balcony off our room.
Also known as the drying rack for my laundry.

I call this one "Study of a Pensive Man."

Going on an obligatory boat ride around the lake.

This? I said I'd marry this?

This hotel was one of our favorites on the trip.

Dec 8, 2012

The Great Escape, Or How We Got To Udaipur

Posted by Mary |

When last we left, Beau and I had been stuck in Agra for days. We finally broke down and bought overpriced bus tickets just to get out of that festering hellhole of touts. I kid. Agra was lovely. (Seriously, try to do it in a day trip or skip it entirely. That place sucked.)

As we were heading back to the hotel, our rickshaw driver started offering to take us to shops. We kept saying no, and he kept offering. Finally I busted out the Hindi and told him "No, take us to the hotel." He got excited that I knew some Hindi, and we started talking Bollywood. When he found out we had been stuck for a few days, he told us he could get us bus tickets for Rs600 each. Good deal, but first we had to get our money back for the overpriced tickets.

The driver dropped us off around the corner from the travel agent. As we approached, I took Beau's arm and started trying to look weak. We told them I drank bad water and we couldn't travel. Sensing that we wanted a refund, they seemed to suddenly not understand English. With a bit of arguing, they peeled off some money and gave it to Beau. Some money, not all of it. Beau told them he had paid Rs900 each. Someone pointed to the back of the tickets and said that there was a 70% refund policy.

I started getting irate (but still acting sick) and asked them how we were supposed to read devangari script. The grumpy man in charge told us to sit down and wait. So we sat and waited. And waited some more. And it started to rain and we were still waiting. My mind started to turn. I asked Beau for his water while we waited and took a few sips to soothe my "upset" stomach. I got a good mouthful of water, gave the bottle back and waited some more. Suddenly, without warning Beau, I got up, ran across the travel agency and stood on the edge of the patio, dramatically heaving until I let the water flow from my mouth. As I stumbled back to Beau, wiping the fake vomit from my mouth with my scarf, I could see him trying not to laugh. Instead, like any good boyfriend, he wrapped his arms around me and asked if I wanted to try to get on the bus that night since I seemed to be feeling better. Bam! Full refund.

I've got a golden ticket. Not to the chocolate factory, but to get the hell out of Agra.

Ignoring the bad karma that lay in wait in my future, we headed back around the corner to our rickshaw driver and went to get our tickets. Rs600 each, we had tickets. And yes, if you're doing the math, I fake puked to save $12. It wasn't the money, it was the principle.

We showed up at the new travel agency at 6:00 for our 6:30 departure. And we waited. 6:30 came and went. 7:00 came and went. At 7:30, we saw our original bus drive by. Finally, at 7:45, our bus pulled up. Right on time (for India).

Bus! Freedom!
We were on a bus. We were on our way to Udaipur.
Things got a little crazy.
What happens in the double sleeper berth stays in the double sleeper berth.
Most importantly, we were leaving Agra. Beau was clearly giddy with excitement. We had a double sleeper berth, and we settled in to sleep. Which would have been easy to do if the bus wasn't slowing down for speed bumps every kilometer or so.

And then some time passed and it was morning and we were still on a bus. It turns out that taking a bus to circumvent Gujjar roadblocks means taking the scenic route. The very long, actually-not-so-scenic route. And even that route didn't entirely avoid the Gujjars, as we discovered when our bus came to a stop and was surrounded by yelling men with big sticks. Beau tried to look out the window to see what was going on, but I yanked him inside, hissing that he'd better keep his honky face hidden. After some terse negotiations, the bus was allowed through the roadblock to drop off a few locals, then promptly turned around and sent off to find another route. We were back on our way to Udaipur. Nothing could stop us!

We attempted to slyly take a picture at first.
Until we came to a stop on a hill. The bus had run out of gas. Undeterred, someone jury-rigged a funnel system and attempted to put a few liters of gas in from a plastic bottle. After many attempts, the driver got the engine started, and we were back on our way to Udaipur. Nothing could stop us!

At this point, we just balatantly took pictures.

Until we were a few hundred feet up the same hill, when we ran out of gas again. You really can't make stuff like this up. This time, they sent someone down the hill in a rickshaw, and brought back an open bucket full of gas. They set up a more complicated system using tubes and gravity to fill the tank. It took several more tries, but we were back on our way to Udaipur. Nothing coul---oh hell, let's just jump to the chase. We finally got to the top of the hill, where we pulled into a gas station, and then turned around without getting gas and started going back down the hill to a different gas station. Really.

Finally, FINALLY, we got to Udaipur, got a rickshaw, and got to our hotel. The night did not end there, but that's a story for another day.

Dec 7, 2012

all aboard the blogging train

Posted by Mary |

Beau is back. Technically, he came back almost two months ago, but I've been selfishly keeping him all to myself. I even skipped yoga for weeks just to spend time staring at him and hoping he wouldn't wake up to find me staring at him. Creepy: You're doing it right!

We did not, however, slack on house hunting. I moved into a ghetto apartment (but it's cheap!) right before his return, but a one-bedroom will never be enough for us. So he arrived in Alaska at 6 pm on a Thursday. At noon on Friday, we were meeting with a mortgage banker. By Monday, we had met with our realtor and handed her a list of eight high-priority houses and 14 medium-priority. Yeah, we had some spreadsheets going. Don't judge.

Next week, we will close on our new house and move in. There will be pictures. And 10 days after we close, I leave for a month in India. It will be Beau's turn to miss me and stare at me while I sleep after my return.