Posts Tagged With: Travel

With sadness bye bye India

There are some things that I really don’t want to forget about India. For close to 3 months, I have called India home (albeit a temporary nomadic home, it was home nevertheless).

20121109-200339.jpgAmazing sunsets in Kerala

I thought I would put them in a blog post (more for me more than for you), but if you ever get to India these are a few random things you might see and do.

The first thing that struck me was the swastika symbol. Apparently Hitler had stolen it from India, and the original meaning behind it is really beautiful!

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Thanks Wikipedia: “It remains widely used in Indian religions, specifically in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, primarily as a tantric symbol to evoke shakti (meaning peace) or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness. The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit svastika – “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be,” and “ka” as a suffix. The swastika literally means “to be good”. Or another translation can be made: “swa” is “higher self”, “asti” meaning “being”, and “ka” as a suffix, so the translation can be interpreted as “being with higher self”.”

Pity how such a beautiful begining was turned into such a horror.

Some things that I wont forget:
– Weird time differences – 3.5 hours different from home. I’ve never been to a zone which breaks the hour.

– Posting parcels home – where it takes you a whole day to get it done. Forget African time, India takes it to a whole new level. The parcel needs to be inspected by customs, weighed, then wrapped in white clothe, stitched closed and sealed with wax.

– Constant change problems. A Rs200 note would make all the difference to the current Rs 100, Rs500 and Rs1000 large notes.

– Amazingly sweet chai available everywhere. The best chai comes from street vendors who boil all ingredients right then and there in front of you.

Things I’ll be happy to forget:
– The dirt. There a literally no dirt-bins in India and locals throw plastic on the ground or simply burn heaps of plastic in the street. I wont even go into the affects of burning plastic on the environment, but after watching cows eat what had been thrown onto the ground, I am happy to be a vegetarian.

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– The spitting. At times you need to watch men and woman closely to ensure that you don’t get spat on. Its such a large part of their culture that there are ‘Spitting’ buckets in some parks (no bins, but spitting buckets?! Go figure).

– Every culture has a habit that is seen as common ground in one culture, yet rude in another. This applies to loud public burping and nasal clearing snorting, which alway seemed to happen while in a yoga or meditation class.

I know my three point above are me judging a culture. I may have brought them across as negatives here, but they did teach me a lot when it comes to accepting others and keeping an open mind while discovering my world.

Another little negative is the sale of semi precious stones in India. I met a Nepali jeweler who was trying to sell me semi-precious stones and after being ripped off in Varkala, I was hesitant. He laughed and said “I.N.D.I.A – I’ll Never Do It Again”, and with regards to precious stones or precious materials I dont actually have experience in – I think I’ll stick to my jeweler in South Africa for my jewellery needs from now on.

Having said that though… My 3 months spent in India were life changing.

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Remembering the first rickshaw driver that ripped me off, to the last one I took to leave India. How different my attitude was and how sweet and polite I was back then. Remembering how easy it is to get around India – trains, planes, buses and rickshaw rides that I will never forget.

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Remembering food – yummy yummy vegetarian food available EVERYWHERE and with such wide varieties – non of those one liners in menus – whole restaurants dedicated to vegetarians. From paratha’s in Kerala to banana lassis found everywhere – India is a culinary delight.

20121109-203217.jpgGranted momos are Tibetan – they still very yummy

20121109-204310.jpgMasala Dosa – traditional breakies

Remembering temples, statues of Shiva and Ganesh, holy rivers and sacred festivals.

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Remembering forts, palaces, holy elephants and army horses.

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Remembering colour, laughs, crazy yoga and train rides.

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Most of all – I never want to forget the amazing people I met along the way and finding awe-inspiring peace in McLeod Ganj

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Little travel tips:
– If a train is full you can buy a ‘Tatkal’ ticket (emergency ticket) from the train station on the day of travel;
– By telling local touts that this isn’t your first time in the country will mean that you’re less likely to be ripped off. I know this sounds strange – but I noticed how prices of things varied hugely just by answering the “First time in India?” with a NO;
– The price of ANYTHING (often including guesthouses) is a third of what they quote you. Local touts have the mentality that if you’re willing to pay first price, then you deserve to be ripped off;
– Do get to Rajasthan and see some incredible forts. Even if places seem to be out of the travelers way, it is well worth it

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Namaste
Xx

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Categories: India | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Jaipur madness

β€œto love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.”
― Ellen Bass

I think this poem sums up my time in Jaipur pretty well. I was not overly impressed with the capital of Rajasan. Maybe it was because I was forted out, maybe it was that Pushkar had left a sour taste in my mouth. Whatever the reason was, I had made my way there because I had thought that it would be a good place to end Rajasthan off with. In reality though, I am learning that not every place needs to be visited just for the sake of being seen and it is ok to miss out on some cities.

Jaipur ended up being a little deranged (I am grateful for my ability to laugh at myself, but at the time it was not funny). My day started off nice and early, with a necessary trip to the train station to book my ticket for that evening. The train was full, and I was issued a ‘waiting list’ ticket of 10th in the queue. It never struck me that Jaipur was quite a central point for trains and that I might not make it onto the train.

With ticket in hand, I made my way to the Monkey Temple (aka Galta & Surya Mandir). Rajastan is full of spectacular forts and palaces, each full of its own history, each magnificent, but after having taken the time to go through 3 cities worth of forts, I really was out forted.

My first memory of Monkey Temple is being bombarded by little boys, all wanting to be my tour guide or sell me something (learnt from a young age). One kid ran up to me with a basket, which when opened revealed a cobra coiled up inside. “Madam, madam… Photo? Photo?” as though repeating it would make it more appealing. I must have jumped 10 foot away in one single leap, and him realising that I would not be taking a picture of it, brought the cobra to his neck in an affectionate hug and walked away sulking. Is anything wild in this country?

I was struck by the lack of preservation of what used to be a magnificent temple. The art work is incredible and hundreds of years old, yet as the years go by, weathered by human negligence and the harsh Indian weather, the actual buildings are slowly falling into a sad level of decay.

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Having said that, the setting is superb, with the temple nestled in a beautiful and lush valley. It seemed to be a joyous locals meeting point. From the temple I could hear children laughing and splashing each other from the water tanks / communal bathing area. It was a nice change from the busy street noise of Jaipur city centre.

At this point you must be thinking – this day seems a far cry from the poem above. You see my train was scheduled to departed Jaipur at 23h15. At 20h00, my position had only moved to 4th in the queue, I started worrying that I would not get onto the train. My suspicions were confirmed and the conductor in broken English and hurried and rushed Hindi told me to go to platform 10 at 23h00 to find out what was to become of my trip. The only problem was that the last platform was number 7. Trying to make my way to enquiries I was bombarded by hungry taxi drivers, all wanting to take me to ‘their brothers guest house’. It was near midnight, and I certainly was not going to get into a taxi or rickshaw alone with the blood hound gang – I might be blond but I’m not stupid.

An officer finally told me (again in broken English/Hindi mix) to go get a room in the Railway Station Retiring Rooms (basically over night room in the station). This seemed like a blessing, so I made my way over to the Retiring Rooms counter only to be told that all rooms were occupied. “But my friend will take you to my brothers guest house just up the road, nice, cheap, cheap”. Having smelt a rat I decided to sit in the reception area and plan my course of action. Being after 1AM and me pretty tired – my brain wasn’t really firing off all cylinders – until the receptionist came and sat next to me on the couch (more like right on top of me). He was so in my space, but the real move came when he tried to touch (grope) my thigh. That was that, no more miss nice Raine!! In fact the next Indian tout to talk to me is likely to have his head removed with my nails.

I spent the night on a metal bench in the ‘Ladies Only’ First Class Waiting room. I haven’t spent a night on a bench since my gap year in 2003, but there was not a chance in hell that I was going to get into a taxi with a man, or even talk to anyone until day light.

Day light… And BLISS! With a new take-no-prisoners attitude I spent a glorious day in the pink city, which really is very pink.

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I took myself off to Lassiwala for their infamous creamy lassis. A lassi is a popular and traditional yogurt-based drink. Although this was a sweet lassi, the banana lassi’s are out of this world.

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20121017-152703.jpgthere is a street full of fake ‘Lassiwala’s so look out for the original

This was then followed by some awesome coffee and a traditional breakies (masala dosa – a curry filled rice pancake) at ‘The Indain Coffee House’ – another institution which has kept its quaint Indian-ness and serves cheap but amazing food.

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When ever I think of the name Jaipur, that Bollywood song pops into my head from ‘Slum dog millionaire’ ‘Jaipur… Jaipur’… That really should have been the sign not to go the city. But in hindsight I got to ride in an Indian Helicopter (where the name came from I have NO IDEA, but it is basically a bicycle taxi), dance like a crazy lady in an Indian railway station waiting room (as an attempt to keep awake and then just for the pure fun of it) and discover my limits.

20121017-152843.jpgAll in all, it was just pure madness.

Categories: India | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Forting it up in Kochi

I have very little to say about Fort Kochi, other than it has been my favourite stop in India so far and YOU MUST GO. I have loved seeing a very different side to India. Kerala was green and tropical and then all of a sudden you reach this quaint chinese style island with its own very distinct architecture, amazing coffee shops and very rich history.

What I liked about Kochi is that the government has limited the taxi drivers and auto rickshaw drivers ability to rip off tourists. When leaving the train station upon arrival we saw a pre-paid taxi/ auto counter (which I suppose had always been at the stations – I guess I had just been oblivious to them). Now I said the government try limit the drivers ability – the drivers do still try, so keep your wits about you. We caught an auto down to the main jetty and then from there caught a Rs2 ferry to the island (its so little I’m not even going to try convert it).

A word of advice – upon arriving in Fort Kochi – rickshaw drivers will basically ask to pay you to drive with them. They get commission from many of the stores on the island, so a trip that should take 10 minutes could end up taking hours because they WILL stop at 10 different shops. So remember to be clear about where you’re going, walk with purpose and you state your price.

Things to do:

Jew town – the old synagogue and great shopping:

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Spice and scent shopping:

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Coffee shops:

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Idiom book shop:

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Chinese fish nets:

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Other than that, there are great places along the shore front to have drinks at.

A complete side note:
While in Fort Kochi, sipping the umpteenth cup of coffee, my friends and I spoke about cultures and the vast difference in communication. Even though in India we were all grouped as Westerners, we worked out that the simple hand signal for 3 was so different between South Africa, USA and Germany.

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Categories: India | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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