Sunday, August 26, 2007

Adventures in India-part 3-"Bombay to the USA"

And now for the long awaited third and final chapter in my India adventures...

Monday, July 30--I was really sad to be leaving our awesome hotel but at the same time I was ready to leave Jaipur behind. It was time to say goodbye to our serious but very nice driver Nagender (notice the cute "driver outfit" he has on) and I couldn't tell if he was more excited about his tip or the prospect of finally being rid of the crazy Americans! We were a bit worried about our domestic flight via Spice Jet Airlines but it really wasn't too bad. When we arrived in Mumbai (aka Bombay--many Indian cities are reverting back to more native-like names to further establish their independence from the British regime that ruled them for so long...) it was raining at a pretty good clip. It was evident that we would be experiencing more of the monsoon season along the coast.

We were a little worried about hiring a taxi and trying to get to our hotel. We really had no idea how far it was or how to get around the city or how much it should cost us. Upon exiting with our baggage we were promptly whisked away by two men who loaded us up and we thought we were on our way. They showed us the tariffs according to the zone of the city and it listed separate prices for a car with a/c versus without. As it was raining we told them we didn't really need the a/c but they didn't seem to like that choice so they promptly gave us a much better price for a car with a/c. The next thing we know we are at this random parking area where we, along with our luggage, were transferred to another awaiting car and driver. It was pretty strange and we were worried that we had really made a mistake by hooking up with this group.

It's hard to explain, but Mumbai is very different than any of the other cities we visited yet still very much India. This is one of the few places you can still see some of the footholds of the British Empire...many gothic buildings, British looking taxis, double decker buses, etc. It definitely feels like more of a cosmopolitan city than Delhi...the closest comparison I have is kind of like the New York City of India with a little bit of L.A. mixed in because it is the home of the Bollywood film-making industry and there is even a part of town known as "Film City."

Anyway, it was quite a long ride from the airport to our hotel...not to mention the fact that our driver had never heard of the hotel. Fortunately it is near a very well known train station (Victoria Terminus) so he at least knew how to get to the area. After having to turn around a number of times we finally realized that our hotel was housed inside some random building on the third floor. We were grateful to be out of the car and out of the rain.

We hauled our goods up to the hotel and presented them with our Travelocity reservation. They whipped out their big log book (although India has made many strides towards modernity, each hotel we stayed in had this huge book or ledger where we had to fill out our information for check-in)...anyway, they whipped out their book and my name was nowhere to be found. We were escorted to a waiting room where we sat for nearly an hour doing who-knows-what before they took us to the room.

The Empire Royale Hotel, as I mentioned, takes up the third floor of a building. This "floor" has been renovated into two separate levels with rooms. They were honestly the lowest ceilings I have ever seen and I'm not even a very tall person. Our room was nicely appointed but definitely had the look and feel of a cruise ship cabin. The bathroom seemed totally mismatched in terms of decor and layout. We also opened our window to get a load of our view and were greeted by this guy on the roof of the building next to us. WHAT?!?

Fortunately for us, there is a McDonald's situated right on the corner of the building we were staying in as it was a bit late and still kind of rainy. We ate something and being a bit tired from our travels just headed back the room. We watched the only English channel available, nothing less than the Hallmark channel, played some cards and called it a night.

Tuesday, July 31--We talked to our hotel about renting a car and driver for the day and they wanted to charge us double what we had paid in Delhi. Mind you, we knew that Mumbai was much more expensive than Delhi but this seemed ridiculous. We then ascertained from our guide book that where we were headed wasn't all that far away and decided to try our luck in a city taxi. Yeah, the ride over cost us just one measly dollar.

Our plan for the day was to take the ferry out to Elephanta Island to see some supposedly amazing cave sculptures. The ferry took probably about an hour and, in a brilliant move on my part, I got kind of seasick because I had forgotten to take a Dramamine back at the hotel. But it was kind of refreshing to be away from the crush of humanity and be riding a boat across Mumbai harbor. As we neared the island it looked like a lush green tropical paradise.

We unloaded and started the walk up towards the staircase that leads up to the caves. But ne'er you worry...if you're feeling too tired to walk, there is a lovely little train that will take you for the low, low price of 10 rupees. Random!! It was definitely more humid on the island but didn't feel as hot. It was pretty overcast but no rain fell. There whole island is teeming with monkeys and that was pretty cool.

We had to climb about a gazillion stairs to get up to the cave entrance. By the time we got there I was sweating just as profusely as if I had been at the Taj Mahal again...lovely! I definitely did not feel like an attractive person at any point during my time in India. Anyway, the cave itself was amazing...totally just carved out of the mountainside.

Elephanta Caves is an area filled with sculptures of a number of Hindu gods and goddesses and supposedly dates back to 600 A.D. The most highly touted sculpture is the Trimurti--a depiction of Lord Brahma the creator, Lord Vishnu the preserver and Lord Shiva the destroyer--as a 3 headed personage. The sculptures are all very cool but very difficult to photograph because there is not good lighting inside the cave obviously.

Other than the caves, there is really nothing else to do on the island...except for shop. The stairs to the cave are lined with all of these people selling their wares. We actually found some pretty cool stuff that we had not seen in any of the other markets we had been to so we made some good purchases. The road back to the dock is also lined with shops and Heidi inquired about the price of a wooden elephant only to have the owner follow her for a few minutes calling out different prices.

As we were still walking an Indian family was passing by us also on the way to the dock and the man struck up a conversation with us and gave us some tips on haggling for prices. It turned out that this man, Vijay, is actually a Christian missionary serving with his family in Saudi Arabia. He and his wife Leslie and two children Steven and Sarah (not the typical Indian-sounding names, eh?) were on vacation and in Mumbai for the first time as well.

Heidi had mentioned that her brother was a missionary in India a few years back and we ended up having a really great discussion with him about the similarities and differences in our beliefs. Vijay and his family belong to the Church of South India which he described as being somewhat similar to the Baptist Church although from what I've seen online it is described as more aligned with Protestant beliefs.

Anyway, as I mentioned, we had a great conversation with him during the hour-long boat ride and we were able to touch on many of the important topics covered in the old missionary discussions. I was very thrilled to find out that Heidi had put her small military copy of the Book of Mormon in her camera case so we were able to write in it and leave it with Vijay and his family.

I (we) had murmured some about the cost of coming to Mumbai and feeling like it was a waste, but after meeting Vijay and his family the purpose of our side trip there was very clear. It was amazing enough to meet a Christian family in India but even more amazing that we would meet a family who has been living in Saudi Arabia and would likely not have the chance to be introduced to the gospel as the LDS Church has no official presence there. We were definitely on somewhat of a high to have the great opportunity to meet them and share our beliefs with them.
We returned to the mainland anddecided to do the walking tour outlined in our guide book. It was kind of lame but we did see a lot more European-looking architecture as well as passing Bombay University. We decided to check our email in this little cyber cafe that was hotter than you-know-where and had the oldest computers known to man. But the best part was that it only cost 25 cents for a half hour. With no other options nearby, we had to suffer through another McChicken Burger at the golden arches and then retired to our room for more Hallmark Channel and games before bed.

Wednesday, August 1--We got up and checked out of our hotel but had them store our luggage so we could go out before going to the airport. We wanted to go to Mani Bhavan which is a house that Ghandi lived in and worked from off and on from 1917-1934. It was really hard to find a driver that knew where it was...which we found funny because they call him "Father of the Nation" and he is on all of the currency!

Anyway, it was a really cool place and they had photos of his life, letters he had written, a library of stuff by and about him, paintings and sculptures of him and a whole section completely dedicated to dioramas depicting different events from his life. Probably one of the biggest highlights was seeing the room he stayed in with some of his original belongings. We also went on the rooftop and it was incredible to think we were standing where Ghandi himself once stood.

I left the museum with a great respect for this man. It just goes to show the power that one person can have to influence people for good. In some ways Ghandi reminds me of President Hinckley in that he was a leader and a friend to the people because he traveled many places and was among the people. I was also reminded of Joseph Smith acknowledging that he was willingly going as "a lamb to the slaughter" because two days prior to his assassination Ghandi said, "If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips..." They both also reportedly shared very similar last words in crying out to God as they were being assassinated. It was a great experience to learn more about Ghandi and we bought some books about his life and his teachings.

We went back to the hotel and had to wait forever for the taxi they had called to come take us to the airport. There was another huge downpour the whole time we were driving there. I had to go through an extra security check at the airport for no apparent reason so that was kind of annoying. We arrived back in Delhi and were met by our driver who took us back to our hotel...or at least what we thought was our hotel. There had been some mix-up either by our travel agency or the hotel and they did not have a room for us. We were promised the same quality accommodations and were taken to a nearby hotel that was not that great but we didn't have any other choice that late at night. Needless to say we were not happy at all with the situation.

Thursday, August 2--Our last full day in India! We checked out of our gross hotel and were taken to another one that was only slightly better. As we did not want to waste the whole day to find a hotel that we would basically only use for showering and packing that night we just agreed and moved on.

This was the day we had designated to get the rest of our souvenir shopping done. Unfortunately it was raining on and off, which made things difficult at times. Luckily we had found this great area while Candice was with us that had pretty much everything we could ask for. By this point I was really feeling very "done" with the whole pushy vendor scene and the multiple "Excuse me madame"s as we walked around. Boddu had planned to meet up with us but with the rain and traffic got there a bit late. We took him out to lunch at a nearby TGI Friday's to thank him for all our help.

Later we all piled into an auto rickshaw as we went clear across town in search of some things that Heidi's brother Adam had asked her to buy. Sadly the first rickshaw broke down and Boddu had to negotiate with that driver and another one to help us continue on our way. We were able to get the things we needed and then Boddu took us to see the chapel he attends. It is a beautiful house that was converted as a church meetinghouse. We also ran into the missionaries who just happened to be there waiting for an appointment to show up. It was great talking to them and hearing a bit about their experiences.

It was time to say goodbye to Boddu and we were sad because he is such a great person and we had such a good time with him. We are hoping he will have a chance to come to the US some day soon so he can see the Salt Lake Temple and other church sites and visit his mission companions. We went back to the crappy hotel and stayed up again all night packing as we had to leave for the airport at 3 a.m.

Friday, August 3--This was probably the longest day of my life as we traveled about 36 hours to get back home thanks to some flight delays, including a 3 hour delay at JFK. I thought we would never make it. I was very happy to be back on American soil but even happier to walk into my own home.

India was such a crazy experience but such a good life experience. I wish I could truly communicate what it is like there but I think the only way to really understand is to experience it yourself. My one word of advice for most people is to strongly consider going on an organized tour if you want to go to India. I think we could have avoided some of our frustrations going that route but it is definitely doable on your own as well! Anyway, I hope you have been able to get a glimpse the unique world of India through my travelogue and pictures. Thanks for tuning in...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Adventures in India-part 2-"Agra & Jaipur"

I'm back with the second installment of my India adventures. I think there should only be one more after this...or at least I hope so. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post all of this. It would probably help if I wasn't so OCD and ADHD. I want everything to look just right but I get distracted as I go along so it takes twice as long!

Friday, July 27--We packed up our goods and piled into our little car to hit the road for Agra which was supposed to be about a 4 hour drive. It was interesting to see the changes as we moved out of metropolitan Delhi...still tons of people everywhere on the outskirts. As we moved further away there was actually a lot of green space with towns that would pop up here and there. The craziest thing was seeing camels hooked up to carts (as if they were oxen or horses) pulling loads down the road! It was also crazy to see buses fly by with a bunch of people riding on the top!

I'm not sure what our driver had eaten that morning but let's just say I don't think it agreed with him. I would have given anything to not be sitting right behind him! Our driver stopped the car a number of times...just pulled over to the side of the road for no apparent reason and would disappear for a while. Later we stopped at this "motel" type place that had a bathroom if we needed it, a restaurant and a slew of overpriced souvenirs. Mind you, none of us had asked for a bathroom break but we soon learned that the driver had his route marked and stopped where he wanted no matter what.

It was a pretty long drive and we were grateful as we finally pulled into Agra. Our driver stopped at Akbar's tomb and we were grateful to stretch our legs and check out another site. It looked a lot like some of other tombs we had visited but there were some sort of antelope or something roaming the grounds. They had the craziest swirly antlers.

I really am quite impressed at how well preserved these sites seem to be. They are very old and I am sure that a ton of people visit them each year. But I think there is great care taken to maintain and restore them. We had to walk down this long tunnel to get to the actual tomb and were surprised to find some random guy there "standing guard" and doing some weird chant. But it was definitely a pretty cool place.

Our driver then took us to our hotel--Holiday Inn Agra (yes, we decided to splurge a bit and enjoy a more "American" atmosphere.) It was very obvious that this was a higher class establishment than where we had previously stayed. We even had a cool doorman in full Maharaja costume. It was strange to walk on carpet again but we were pulled back to Indian reality when we saw that the rollaway bed again consisted of a folded wooden platform.

We got to the hotel in the early afternoon so we had a whole evening ahead of us. Heidi was really wanting to go see a Bollywood film so we talked to the front desk and they pointed us in the direction of the local mall. The mall was actually pretty normal although you had to buy the movie tickets on the ground level and the theater was on the top level. Weird.

Anyway, we chose to see the movie "Partner"--not only had the hotel recommended it to us, but it happened to be showing at just the right time. People kept looking at us like we were crazy..."You know the movie is in Hindi, right?" Little did they know it was more for the experience than anything. Anyway, the theater was actually really nice and had comfy seats. We were on the very back row as this is the reserved seating they gave us even though the theater wasn't very full.

So, here's the lowdown on Bollywood films in case you haven't seen one (try Bride and Prejudice if you're interested in learning more.) Anyway, these films are 3 hours long with an intermission...yes, an intermission in the middle! Randomly during various parts of the movie it cuts away to these massive song and dance numbers that have nothing to do with the plot. Hysterical! Plus people in the theater are clapping and standing up all during the show when they see something they like. Part way into the movie we realized that "Partner" is almost a perfect rip-off of "Hitch" so even though it was in Hindi we had a good idea of what was. All in all it was prett fun and I'm glad we got to experience it. Our little driver was waiting for us outside the mall and took us back to the hotel for the night.

Saturday, July 28--We got up really early...5-something to drive to the back side of the Taj Mahal to watch the sunrise. To get there we had to drive through some pretty poor parts of town...people sleeping all along the road and shanties made of tarps and plastic and whatever people could find. I was surprised to see how many people were out and about at that early hour. We got to the end of this road and had to walk down through some fields. Mosquitos kept biting us and we were sure we would all get malaria from it!

Sadly, it was way too cloudy and we never saw the sun come up. But it was nice to see the Taj...we practically had it all to ourselves except for some Indians that came to gawk at the 3 whities taking pictures! We got some good shots, including Heidi and I playing London Bridge with the Taj...yeah, yeah, I know...tacky tourist photo but it was just too funny.

We went back to the hotel and took a nap before getting ready and heading out for the day. Our first stop was Agra Fort and our driver asked if we wanted to use the company tour guide for the day. We said yes and boy was that the best decision we could have ever made. Our guide was Raj and he is officially my second favorite Indian (after Boddu.) There were a ton of vendors outside the fort and we were swarmed the minute we got out of our car. This was true in a number of places and probably on of my biggest pet peeves about India.

Agra Fort is a very impressive complex and it was nice to have a guide. It is across the city from the Taj and you can see it from different areas of the fort. The builder of the Taj was actually later imprisoned in Agra Fort and had to look upon his beautiful creation from his confinement. The Fort also boasted a couple of moats to improve its security and many beautiful areas designed by different members of the reigning family such as one daughter who loved the light and wanted lattice work with large spaces and another who hated light and wanted lattice work with very small spaces.

After the Fort we headed back to the hotel to meet up with Candice's coworker Melissa who had traveled up from Bangalore. We then went to have the full Taj Mahal experience. All I can say is that this place definitely deserves its spot as a Wonder of the World!! The intial view is so breathtaking and it seems almost surreal to be standing there taking it all in. The outside structure is amazing, but once inside it's just like any other tomb. And to think that this was all built as a tribute to the love one man had for a woman! Not to mention that many workers and designers either had their tongues cut out or their thumbs, hands or arms amputated so it could never be recreated!

I think I have never been as hot in my entire life as I was at the Taj. I honestly thought it would possibly be my last day on earth. But I figure, if you're gonna go there are a lot worse places to be buried than the Taj Mahal. Worst case scenario they could have just thrown me in there next to old what's-her-name! I didn't know my body could produce that much sweat and not get any cooler!

After we finished Raj took us to learn about artisan work that was used in the building of the Taj--specifically marble inlay work (all of the designs in the Taj are inlay, not paint.) Precious stones are crafted and used as inly design in the marble. This type of work is of Persian origin and all of the workers were brought in from Iran. This artisan work is still performed today...mainly as restoration work for the Taj. The learning of this work is a closely guarded family secret...those who do it now are the 12th generation descendants of the original Taj workers and are paft ofa family guild 7,000 strong. Part of the year they work to restore and maintain the Taj and the rest of the year they create artisan pieces to keep their skills honed. It was interesting to see them working. We were then led to the show room where we all ended up buying something...most of us got something small because it was expensive. But with something as unique as that, how could you pass it up.

It was getting late in the afternoon and our driver was pretty anxious to get on the road. We were supposed to have stopped at more ruins (Fatehpur Sikri) on the way out of town but with 5 hours ahead of us we opted just to get on the road. What followed was honestly the drive from hell. Not only was the road bad, it was under consruction and I would not suggest driving at night. I was claustrophobic (we now had 5 of us crammed in a small car) and the lights from oncoming cars gave me a headache. It was honestly just miserable and I thought we would NEVER get there.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived in Jaipur and checked into what is quite possibly the coolest hotel I have ever seen--the Umaid Bhawan. Highly recommended to anyone who might be going to Jaipur. We had a huge suite with stained glass windows, great Indian furniture and decore and a huge bathroom with a shower and separate tiled shower/huge tub thing. We stayed there on advice from one of my old college roommates and it was great.

Sunday, July 29--We got up in the morning and left for Amber Fort. On the way we drove through the old part of the city which is all painted pink. Hence, Jaipur is also known as the Pink City. We drove up through some hills to the base of the fort and were then able to ride an elepant to the top where the entrance is. How cool is that?! Once up top I made the mistake of taking out a bag of candy to give some to some kids and was promptly accosted by children and grown men alike who all wanted to get their hands on some. I didn't think it was possible, but the vendors in Jaipur were even more aggressive than in Agra and we were grateful once we entered the actual fort and were out of their reach.

Again, this was a really cool complex. It was different than the
other places we had seen because it is not built out of red sandstone and is also set up in the hills. There was so much cool architecture and lots of great photo opportunities. We had to walk back down the big hill to get back to our car and were hassled by more people trying to sell us stuff...I've never met so many persistent/pushy sales people in my life!

We went back to Jaipur and opted out of paying more money to tour the inside of the City Palace. It just didn't look that interesting. We paid a minimal fee to wander around this dumb outdoor astronomy thing that made no sense. Then as we came around the corner we ran into the coolest thing in the whole world--genuine snake charmers! We all stood there practically in shock. I think we were almost just as mesmerized as the snakes were! It was crazy!! You can see a short video here...

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to do some shopping as Jaipur is supposed to be famous for jewelry (particularly silver), silk and other things. We really did not have a positive experience shopping here (just ask Heidi about the pushy silk bedspread guy) and because of the pushy agressive people trying to sell us stuff we really had a bad taste in our mouth about Jaipur in general. We stopped in to grab a quick bite to eat before we had to get Candice and Melissa to the airport it was sad to see Candice leave but I am so glad we got to spend a few days with her. Heidi and I were pretty much done battling the people of Jaipur so we just went back to hotel, wrote some emails and relaxed the rest of the evening.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Free at last!

I would like this image a bit better if the date circled on the calendar was 15 instead of would be more accurate that way. Oh well. The important thing is that it is with great excitement that I announce to you all that TODAY, yes, TODAY I paid off my credit card balance and thereby became debt free!

Debt is a big problem in our society and seems to sink its ugly teeth into all sorts of people. I inherited some great traits from my dad, but along with those I inherited some less-than-effective money management skills, an impulsive buying streak, and an almost-impossible-to-deny urge to snap up anything that appears to be a good bargain. I begrudgingly admit that on more than one occasion my father referred to himself as "The Daddy of Discount." Did I mention that I also inherited a small bit of his goofy sense of humor? :)

Anyway, I haven't always been the best at managing my money. I had some credit card debt before my mission that I was able to wipe out and hoped I would never get in that situation again. Well, after coming home one thing led to another and I was in debt yet again. Having had the oppressing cloud of debt lifted from my life once before, I knew that I would feel much better being able to escape that weight again once and for all.

So for the past handful of years, one of my annual resolutions has been to become debt free. And while I occasionally made good progress and whittled my debts down one by one, I was always left with my principal credit card debt. To help me in my endeavors, I created yearly slogans or catch phrases as a reminder and motivation. Let me share them with you:

"Debt free in 2003"
"Debt no more in 2004"
"Debt won't jive in 2005"
"Get out of my fix in 2006"
and finally.....
"Debt free heaven in 2007"

And so this morning, at approximately 9:30 a.m., I did indeed enter the pearly gates of debt free heaven as I paid off the remaining balance on my credit card. It has not been an easy process to dig my way those of you who have been or are in debt may know from experience. There were many setbacks along the way, but I am grateful that I have been able to make more sound financial decisions regarding budgeting, savings, retirement investment and becoming debt free (insert a shout-out to my "Financial Life Jacket" lessons from Kimmie.) So from now on I hope that my new and everlasting slogan will be:

p.s. I promise to return you to your regularly scheduled programming of the captivating series "Adventures in India" in my next blog so stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Adventures in India-part 1-"Smelly Delhi"

Ok, first off let me just say that most, if not all, of India is smelly. But there is only one city that rhymes so well with said description. Let me also say that it is probably very dangerous for me to be trying to post at this hour so bear with me. I didn't have a chance to write anything over the weekend so I thought I'd take advantage of my jet lag issues and get things going.

Sunday, July 22 and Monday, July 23--All in all it took us about 34 hours to get to India. We were only supposed to have a 3 hour layover at JFK, but that turned into a 7 hour layover for a reason that was never disclosed to us. But we did get a food voucher from the airline and the chance to catch up on some much needed sleep. I was actually pretty surprised at how quickly those 34 hours seemed to go--especially seeing as how our row of the plane had electrical problems and we had no audio for the movies nor light to read by.

Finally, we arrived exhausted and a bit exasperated at the airport in Delhi. The customs process was very smooth as you have to arrange a visa before arriving in the country. We had to wait quite a while for our luggage...mine came out at least a full half hour before Heidi's and that caused some tense moments but fortunately nothing was lost. By that time it was after 3 a.m. and we were now more than 4 hours late. We had little-to-no hope that our hotel transfer would still be awaiting us...but to our great surprise they were still there. I swear to you that my name has never looked so beautiful as it did written on the grimy little paper our driver was holding!

We finally made it to our hotel and were pleasantly surprised at its offering for a 3 star (Indian standards) establishment. I think more than anything we were just happy to shower and fall into bed...especially since I had the worst cankles I have ever experienced in my life!!

Tuesday, July 24--Most of this day was spent in a complete stupor of jet lag, interrupted by three phone asking if we wanted breakfast, another from Heidi's brother's mission companion and a third asking for a copy of our reservation confirmation. I groggily grabbed the paper and headed out for the lobby, not realizing that the floor was wet and thereby falling down the stairs and landing flat on my back. OUCH!! I'm just glad noone else was around to see my moment of grace.

After the front desk/stair fiasco I went back to bed for a bit but eventually we decided to rouse ourselves and venture outside in search of the internet and bottled water. The hotel staff led us to a travel agency where some guy let us use his computer and proceeded to talk to us about our options while in India. We decided it was better for us not to commit to anything in our stupor but promised to come back the next day.

Wednesday, July 25--Our first real day in India began with hiring a driver to take us around to the sights. We first went to Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque. Our excellent planning in having skirts in our backpack allowed us to actually enter the mosque. It is quite an impressive building and there were many people there (as I soon came to understand, there are many people everywhere in India.) We encountered people staring at us as if we were aliens and others who took pictures of us or with us as if we were celebrities. I'm sure we looked as interesting and unique in our own right as they did to us.

I neglected to mention that our driver suggested we move around Old Delhi via bicycle rickshaw as parking in the area is difficult. Heidi and the driver rode in one rickshaw and I rode in the other. It is a great way to see things but I have to admit I felt guilty having this little Indian man try to pedal the big American around in unbearable heat! One of my favorite things was when he told me to put my feet on the metal bars hooking the rickshaw to the bike and said "This is your seatbelt." :)

Anyway, we proceeded to head to the market area of Chandni Chowk, which holds a number of markets for the locals including a spice market, wedding market and jewelry market. It was amazing to navigate maze of the narrow alleyways of the market right along with throngs of people, motor bikes and other rickshaws. I wish I could have truly captured the experience, but the best I could do was a short video which doesn't do it justice.

Afterwards we were dropped off at the Red Fort. By this time we were feeling pretty dehydrated. I was so hot I could hardly stand it. The bottled water for sale near the entrance looked a bit "iffy" so we opted for orange soda instead. It was so miserably hot that it was all I could do to put one foot in front of another. The fort is a pretty great place but I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I could have if my body hadn't entered a nuclear meltdown. Here's Heidi outside the fort:

Anyway, the whole point of going to the Red Fort was to meet up with Boddu (Heidi's brother Adam's mission companion.) Apparently "Indian Time" is similar to "Latin Time" or "Mormon Standard Time" and so we toured the Red Fort waiting for him to show up. He was finally there when we resurfaced on the outside and it didn't take long for us to realize why Boddu is one of Adam's favorite companions. He is definitely our favorite Indian. We made a stop at India Gate which is a memorial to the Indians who lost their lives in World War I. This is me and Boddu at the gate.

Heidi had a list of things she needed to buy for her brother so we headed for an area called Connaught Place and entered a spiraling underground shopping area called the Palika Bazaar. This was our first introduction to the very persistent Indian vendors who tried to attract our attention by calling out "excuse me madame!!" By the end of our trip I was so tired of hearing this phrase that I thought I was going to pull my hair out. Anyway, Heidi was able to buy some of the things on her list and also bought an outfit for herself after being assured that the store carried "Ma'am-size options" (if you want the full story on this you'll have to ask in person...needless to say it was our ongoing joke for the whole trip!)

Boddu then took us to a nearby restaurant serving vegetarian Southern Indian food. He ordered this sampler type thing for each of us that consisted in a large steel dish that had a banana leaf on the bottom and small shot glass type steel containers of different types of sauces or concoctions. In the middle of all this was an Indian bread called roti that we ripped pieces off of and dipped into the various sauces and concoctions. Some of the stuff was okay but a lot of it was too spicy for my delicate palate. I did enjoy the roti and another bread called poori though...very tasty.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel to await Candice's arrival from Bangalore. Her flight was delayed but she arrived safe and sound. It was good to see her after so long. After much effort on our behalf, the hotel finally provided us with the extra bed, which consisted of a folded wooden platform that laid out semi-flat and had a thin mattress on top...hmmm! We talked for a while and then crashed to rest up for the next day of sight-seeing.

Thursday, July 26--Thanks to the time difference, I was able to place a call this morning to wish my mom happy birthday back in the States. We then headed out with a new driver to tour the sights of New Delhi. We started by driving past the president's palace and some other government buildings. Following this we went to Humayan's tomb, which was a predecessor to the Taj Mahal. There were a lot of cool structures here and it wasn't entirely swarmed over with people so that was nice.

We then continued on to Qutb Minar which is the world's tallest brick minaret (spire.) This was a really cool tower and I just couldn't believe how tall and well-preserved it is. The tower is 239 feet tall and was completed in 1230 AD. There is also a lot of detail work and really neat carvings all around the complex. Just to show you the impressive size of this structure, I am the tiny dot in the center at the bottom of the tower. Wow!

Afterwards we went to the Lotus Temple of the Baha'i Faith. We had to take our shoes off to go inside and I swear my flesh was grilling up right there on the pavement it was so hot. The temple is beautiful though and is reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. Perhaps the best part of all is that you are not allowed to speak or make any noise inside the temple, which was a very welcome change from the utter chaos of the streets of Delhi.

We did a little more shopping that afternoon thanks to a recommendation from one of Candice's Indian coworkers. As we finished, we spied a Pizza Hut across the way and decided that would be a safe way to curb our hunger. The pizza was slightly different, but good nonetheless. As a side note, in restaurants, menu items are denoted vegetarian by a green square with a green dot in the middle next to the item, while non-vegetarian items are denoted bya red square and dot. We made it back to the hotel and enjoyed just relaxing and talking more before hitting the hay.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The curse of jet lag!

Ok, maybe you thought (or hoped) that I had completely given up on my blog...but alas, that is not the case. Internet access in India was not the greatest...essentially we had to kick some employee off of their work computer either at or hotels or the travel agency to even check our email. Therefore I didn't feel that it would be very appropriate to take the time to post a blog entry.

Nonetheless, we have been back in the States for a few days now. I promise to post my travelogue when I have a bit more time (perhaps this weekend.) In the meanwhile, I wanted to make quick mention of the curse of jet lag. I'm beginning to wonder if I am getting too old to travel half way around the world because jet lag is still kicking my trash at this point.

I don't remember how badly I suffered from jet lag coming back from Thailand a couple of years ago...although I do remember how completey trashed I was tyring to go back to work the very next day after getting home--BAD idea! Needless to say, I opted to give myself a couple of days to recover before jumping back into life with both feet.

My first attempt at sleep did not go well. I ended up going to bed at 4:00 in the morning on Saturday when we got home but then the dog wanted to get up at his normal time of 6:30. Although I tried to get him to go back to sleep with me, I couldn't rest much for fear that he would either pee on my bed or jump down unbenownst to me and destroy my house. Fortunately at around 9:30 a.m. Heidi's sister came and rescued me. I then passed out until 1:00 p.m. and decided I should get up so I could try to get back on schedule.

Saturday night went a little better, although I couldn't fall asleep until late and didn't feel rested getting up. Sunday night was a complete mess as I fell asleep at 1:00 a.m. and found myself wide awake at 4:00 a.m. I do not suggest attempting one's first day at work after vacation on only 3 hours of sleep. Another tip is to NOT have your picture taken for a new ID badge on that same day. I look slightly drunk/stoned/challenged in the if my coworkers didn't have enough fodder to back up that idea anyway. Hmmm...

The past couple of nights have gone a bit better thanks to Benadryl. However, I find myself fighting with the alarm clock for over an hour every morning...which isn't usually like me. And then there's that nasty fatigue wall I hit between 3:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon that completely sucks the will to live right out of me.

A coworker mentioned to me that it takes him 2 weeks to adjust back after going to China. For everyone's sake, let's hope that isn't true in my case. Perhaps I should head to COSTCO to stock up on some industrial size Benadryl. :) Any other suggestions/remedies? Wish me luck, time to hit the hay for tonight.