Leaving Jaipur and onto Delhi

I am able to get a little blogging time now. We are in Dharmasalam and Emily is getting a massage – for 1000 rupees or $20 you can have someone come to your room. I had to laugh because the girl who is giving the massage has an Angry Birds t-shirt on! Anyway, I am on the hotel patio outdoors but indoors in this lovely Tibetan style dining room sitting here blogging with a skinny gray cat beside me. The chairs are red and very low to the ground…quite comfortable.

But I need to return in memory to Jaipur. Emily had to work a bit that morning, so I decided to take a quick trip to the City Palace. Once again, Abdul was waiting outside, and he took me where I wanted to go. He dropped me off at “stall 82,” which was the address of a street vendor near the palace, and said I just needed 20 minutes or so to see the palace. He said he would pick me up afterwards. I walked a short ways and paid the foreign tourist fee (not too much – maybe $2.00 or so). Indians pay much less to visit what is called heritage site, usually 50 cents or less. Every time we visited a heritage site, Emily pulled put her passport and business card. Since she lives and works in India, she pays taxes now to India. She is supposed to get some sort of special card allowing her the discount, but it has not been issued to her yet. But she has managed to talk the ticket sellers each time into giving her the Indian rate. It is funny, because when we then give our tickets to the ticket taker, they always raise their eyebrows and say something like, “You Indian?” She explains she lives in Mumbai.

The City Palace was interesting, but even though the compounds are usually very large, most of the areas look similar. so Abdul was right – 20 minutes was plenty of time. I returned to stall 82 and there was no sight of Abdul. I knew parking was a problem, and he had proven to be very reliable, so I wasn’t worried. People watching is quite fascinating in India. You see almost everything imaginable. I discreetly snapped a picture of a group of older men in traditional white Indian garments sitting around talking. Of course, there were many women in the colorful saris. I was surprised to see so few Indian women in western dress, although I understand why almost all of them do wear saris. They are so beautiful and look very comfortable, although I hear they are difficult to tie. Also popular are the long blouses and matching pants, with a scarf. I am quite plain in my jeans and t-shirt in comparison!

Finally Abdul arrived, and took me back to the hotel. I thanked him for all of his excellent driver service. He motioned for me to step out, and then he pulled a notebook out from under the seat in the back of his rickshaw. I looked throu the note ok and it was filled with comments from satisfied customers, praising Abdul for his driving prowess (no easy thing in India) and excellent service. I wrote a similar comment, and signed it. Then Abdul asked me to “speak out loud.” I read Abdul what I had written, and he seemed to beam with pleasure. He gave me his business card – like any other 21st century businessman, it included his email address.

Emily and I had arranged for a car to take us to Delhi, and it was to leave at 3. So I went up to the room, a bit sad at having to leave such a lovely accommodation, and packed up. When the driver arrived, he loaded up our suitcases, and we took off, Abdul waving goodbye as he left.ossibly, he was a bit jealous at having to turn us over to another driver!

The drive from Jaipur to Delhi generally takes about 5 hours. I wasn’t sure what to expect and hoped that it would be a pleasant and interesting drive. I wasn’t to be disappointed in this, but There were a few nerve wracking incidents. I will save that story for my next entry!

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Touring Jaipur

Our first morning in Jaipur began with a complimentary hotel breakfast. It was a buffet, and included yogurt, different fruit (bananas,mangoes,watermelon), cereal, a few Indian dishes, and made to order omelets. We enjoyed a leisurely meal, and then left the hotel compound for a day of sightseeing. As soon as we walked onto the street, an autorickshaw driver approached us. Emily has gotten really good at negotiating rides. says usuallyassays, “meter!” This indicates that she expects the driver to charge according to how far you actually go, and then you pay at the standard rate. If you don’t negotiate before getting in the vehicle, you will pay forit dearly. Since we didn’t know exawhere how long we wanted the driver for, Emily negotiated for a day long fare. Our driver’s name was (and still is!) Abdul. He took us through the city, deftly negotiating traffic, and dropped us off at The Amber Palace and Fort. These occupy a very large area in the hillside. In the view opposite the palace, you see the Great Wall of China. At least that is what it looks like to me. I have only see the pictures, though. As soon as we were spotted by the people who work at the Palace compound, we were ushered into an area to be sold hats, trinkets, bracelets, water, anything. All we wanted to do was ride an elephant up to the top of the hill where the palace was. It was only 9:30 in the morning, but they were not allowing any more elephant rides. That was actually a good thing and I didn’t mind walking up the paved road. The elephants are permitted to make only 4 trips per day, in the morning only when it is cooler. I love elephants – they are highly intelligent animals – so was glad their welfare was being taken into account. We then entered through the gates, and climbed up, passing by many elephants with brightly colored faces. The Indian riders who were returning the elephants to the bottom of the hill sometimes wanted you to pet the animals. We did – incredibly tough skin – but then they wanted rupees for that favor.

When we got to the top, the view of the surrounding country was incredible. There are always people there wanting to hire out to guide you through the ancient palace, but you can wander around easily on your own. One young man, probably early 20’s, latched on to Emily and I. I think he mostly wanted to practice his English, at least that is what he indicated. He has lived in Jaipur his entire life, doesn’t want to be anywhere else, has never been to school, and cannot read or write. But he was very well spoken and we enjoyed chatting. Emily and I explored the palace for an hour or so. As soon as we came out of the main entrance, the same young man was waiting for us. he wanted to give us a guided tour of the Krishna Temple, but we declined.

One nice thing about cab and rickshaw drivers is that they will wait for you while you are sightseeing. We called his cell phone, and he picked us right up. He did insist on taking us to a fabric shop that was owned by his brother’s cousin, and I got talked into buying two lengths of cloth. I have no idea if I got a good deal or not (probably not), but the cloth is lovely and will be used as curtains for my new Florida home.

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Leaving Mumbai and Off to Explore India

Sorry I haven’t posted lately. Emily and I are now in Delhi and when we left Mumbai, I decided to leave my computer at her apartment and just take iPhone and iPad. Mistake! It is harder to blog on smaller devices. Also, sometimes recharging is problematic (my fault, not India’s). After our visit to the slum, we returned to Emily’s apartment where I rested. Then we went to dinner in a very nice Indian restaurant with Emily’s roommate, Matilde. Matilde is a lovely French woman about Emily’s age, and has a real estate business. We also met up with another friend, Kim, who is from Chicago. It is surprising that there are young women like Emily off in India having adventures. But I would have loved to do something like that in my 20’s too. We had a wonderful evening, sharing a variety of Indian dishes, all delicious. I need Emily here to help me recall the names, and will add them later, but we had an eggplant dish, a shrimp dish with a tasty Indian sauce, roti (a type of bread), a lentil dish, and a few other things. I had a berry sangria and Emily, adventurous as ever, had a blue cheese martini.

Emily and I left for the Mumbai airport the next afternoon around 1 or so to catch a plane to Jaipur. First, we took a quick walk  for fresh coconut juice -right out of the shell. Emily then fixed me yogurt and fruit, and she worked a bit. Luckily, in her job she can do a lot of her work on the computer from anywhere.

The flight to Jaipur was also uneventful, and just took an hour or so. Jaipur is in the desert, and is also known as The Pink City. Most of the buildings are a pinkish-orange color, from the ancient forts and palaces to the newer shopping areas. The traffic there is as bad as in Mumbai. I have a feeling that I will be discussing transportation a lot in this blog! There seem to be few rules, except in general go in a forward position, as fast as you  can and take any detours needed. Several times our autorickshaw driver would go down a one way street, dodging oncoming cars, motorcycles, cows, etc. Oftentimes you will be in the middle of what seems like a free for all – like a bumper car attraction without the bumps. From skinny to wide vehicles, there will be men riding bicycles, alone or pulling a non-autorickshaw, motorcycles (lots of motorcycles), autorickshaws, cars, vans, trucks; Throw in a few people riding camels and elephants. And many, many people on foot.  Crossing the street is not for the fainted heart!

We arrived at our hotel in the early evening. Emily suggested staying in a palace turned hotel, and booked The Alsisar. It had been the family home of the Alsisars, and portraits of the men were in the public sitting rooms. When we first pulled up to the gate, I was a bit disappointed. It really did look dumpy, and not what I imagined what a palace would look like. But when we opened the door, it revealed itself. A lovely lobby, and then a large courtyard, a pool area, several more public rooms and courtyards. Then up some stairs to our room. The room had a padlock on it, and the hotel employee opened it with a large key on a bell – no key card for this hotel. Our room was lovely, and I will let pictures tell about it. We were a bit hungry, and Emily picked out a  couple of snacks from room service – fattening fried bread filled with chicken and vegetables, but very tasty.

There is a restaurant that serves a buffet of traditional Indian food each evening. When it was time for dinner , we were not hungry enough to eat from the buffet due to the earlier snacks so Emily picked out a couple of small dishes, which we shared. We were served by very attentive waiters in traditional garb, complete with turbans. Afterwards we went out to sit by the pool. The peacefulness of that environment was quite welcome, particularly after the bustle outside the palace area. Lots of birds were making their noises, and then the traditional Muslim call for prayers were heard. While India is largely Hindu, many Indians are Muslim.

We were trying to decide what, if anything, we wanted to do the rest of the evening. I thought about seeing a Bollywood movie, but then our evening was decided for us. An Indian puppeteer sets up a stage each evening and insists any hotel visitor watch his performance. That night, it was just Emily and I at the show, held outside at night in the courtyard. He  had a number of puppet dolls in brightly colored saris, that he made himself as part of his family business. For some reason, a number of the female puppets had mustaches. He put on a funny dancing show with the puppets (be on the lookout for the video). The cast included dancing Indian puppet ladies, a flute player and snake, and a Michael Jackson puppet. Another man played music and drums for the show. Then he insisted Emily and I give puppeteering a try. Of course, at the end he put his puppets up for sale. After a bit of haggling, I bought a pink puppet lady, that will go on a wall in my new house in Florida. After all of the puppet excitement, we decided to call it a night and returned to our room to enjoy sleeping in a palace bedroom.

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This is going to be a difficult post. I have heard people joke about “going slumming,” and today I really did. A company named Reality Tours organizes these tours to raise money for this and other slums. Dharavi is right in the middle of Mumbai. It is home to almost a million people, in about a 1 square mile area. Emily and I took a lengthy cab ride out of Bandra into Mumbai during rush hour, so it took longer than expected. We met up with our tour guide – a young, pleasant, enthusiastic Indian man named Daja. Three Germans about Emily’s age where also on this tour. We hiked a short ways through the outskirts of Dharavi, seeing the train station and  many small shops. This area was not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but by slum standards, it was quite elegant. We crossed over a bridge and were given the rules – the main ones I remember was not to take pictures, don’t hold your nose due to the smells (which were in fact very bad), and don’t give money to begging children. What absolutely amazed me was the fact that Dharavi is a vibrant, functioning, industrial and residential community similar in many ways to any other community. It just happens to be based on and built on garbage. The slum is over 160 years old, and began when nearby construction teams tossed garbage into this area.  People began living here, because it was vacant land, with discarded “goods.” There are many slums in Mumbai, but Dharavi is one of the largest. We were first taken to the industrial area. People from the slum gather garbage and bring it back. Before coming here, I would see huge plastic bags on the backs of people. Now I know what it is garbage treasures. In particular, plastic discards are recycled. They are broken down by heat into small flakes, and then processed into tiny beads. Then, goods are made, such as the purple “ray ban” sunglasses I had purchased earlier in India. There are also industries such as leather making, Animals are slaughtered there, and their skin is made into pocketbooks, belts, etc. There was even a small display case of such goods. At one point we climbed on some filled garbage bags and then up some metal steps to the “rooftop of the slum.” We were informed that almost every occupation could be found there – teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, along with the “factory workers.” There are schools (didn’t get to observe but peeked into a kindergarten and the children all waved), a place to watch movies, snack bars, just about anything you might want, but in tight, dirty, crowded quarters. A typical Hindu family of 4, or a Muslim family of 8 will have a tiny “house” about the size of a small bathroom. If in a good location, it might rent for the equivalent of $60 a month or you could buy it for $20,000. Our guide said that in the slum, there are 5 necessities – food, clothing, a roof, a cell phone, and a TV. Yes, you can get cable or satellite TV in Dharavi. The children are beautiful and very friendly. They all get a kick out of simply saying “Hi” and waving. We also saw pottery making, with a man stepping on the clay barefooted. It called to mind the brick making scene in The Ten Commandments. Amazingly, the people didn’t seem discontented. There are many people who can afford to move out of the slum but prefer to stay. I am totally in awe of the people,who live there. I was just there for 2 hours, but left feeling absolutely drained physically, emotionally, and psychologically. How do the people live and work there day in and out? The will to survive is incredible. Even though the people survive and in some cases, thrive (relatively speaking), no one should have to live that way. When we returned  to Emily’s apartment, all I could do was shower and then sleep the rest of the afternoon.

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April 2

April 2:          It is 6:08 pm India time and we just returned from a very nice day out again in Mumbai. I have no idea what time it was when we woke up, but Emily prepared for us her typical breakfast of thick, plain yogurt with persimmon and banana cut up in it. That, with French press coffee/milk, started us off fine. Before we left, Emily made phone reservations for a slum tour on April 3. There is a company that arranges the tours, for the purpose of raising money for the slum. We considered visiting Elephanta Island, but don’t have time for both, as we catch a flight on Wednesday to Jaipur. Ultimately, I chose the slum tour, as the slums are a reality of modern India. The tour will not be a “fun” or particularly enjoyable part of the trip as they are hot, dusty, and I am sure, disturbing to see such abject poverty. My soul tells me I need to go on the tour. Our first stop of the day was to change US money into Rupees. Emily knew a place that gave good rates, and overall we were successful. Note to self: when I travel outside the US in the future, bring large bills into the county as you get a better exchange rate. I had only $20 bills; I asked for those when I took money out for my trip thinking if by some chance if I lost a bill, I didn’t want to lose a $100 bill. But having 20’s only cost me an extra $5 or $6. Emily also wanted me to try something called “paani puri.” You purchase 6 for about 75 cents (of course, we paid in rupees). They take a small, crispy, hollow bread shell (small enough to pop the whole thing in your mouth), fill it with something that has a sweet, spicy, cilantro flavor, and dunk it in water. You pop it in your mouth and there is a strange but delicious burst of watery flavor. It is very hard to describe, and something you just have to try if able. Emily made sure that we stopped at a street café that uses bottled water for this. So far, I have avoided “Delhi belly” or “traveler’s diarrhea, and with any luck won’t get it. We then grabbed a cab into Mumbai, and went to a place on the Sea called The Gateway Of India. This is a tourist site, and is something you simply stand and stare out for a few minutes. There are lots of people wanting to take and sell you your picture in front of the doorway, similar to what is done at places like King’s Dominion, but if you refuse, they generally leave you alone. Who is harder to deal with are the children. A lovely young girl around 6 or so walked up to me a tried to put a flower bracelet on my hand. Emily is wise to the ways of India now, so she did not allow this. If you accept the bracelet, the child has been taught to request that you buy her some food, saying how hungry she is. She takes you to a merchant, who then charges you an exorbitant price for a bag or rice or something. The merchant and the child then split the profit. Across from The Gateway of India is the Palace Hotel. This is an elegant, absolutely gorgeous hotel right on the Arabian Sea. Westerners, or well-dressed Indians, have no trouble walking in just to look around. We wandered around, and took a few pictures. I resolved to one day return as a guest, or at least for high tea if I ever return to Bombay. In the area of the hotel where there are high end shops (and some of the most beautiful saris), there are a few signed pictures of contemporary VIPs who have stayed at the hotel, including Barak Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Gere. There was another window of pictures of similar celebrities from days long ago. Emily and I have both read a book about India called Shantaram, written by an Australian criminal who fled to India to escape prison. Gregory Roberts wrote this marvelous book about his time in India, particularly Mumbai, and he ended up serving as a medic in one of the slums. He frequented a very charming café called Leopold’s and we decided to refresh ourselves there. I had a latte, Emily had a banana milkshake, and we share obligatory cold bottle of water. Of course, being in a touristy area, we shopped a bit. The jewelry tends to be lovely, but very ornate, a bit much for my style! I did purchase a pashmina at one shop. Emily had wanted to take me to one of her favorite restaurants in Mumbai – Britannia. Britannia actually serves Farsi food, not English, but you get the distinct impression (the pictures on the wall and décor are a give away) that  the owners are Anglophiles. The restaurant is open only between 12 and 4pm, and has been owned by the same Iranian family for many years. Oone of the proprietors seems to be the patriarch, goes from table to table welcoming and checking on the customers. Emily has been there a number of times, and she told me what to expect! He loves Hilary Clinton, and always tells his U.S. customers to tell her hello for him. He also has a large picture of Gandhi and Queen Elizabeth on the wall, in addition to a large cut-out of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Emily ordered two of her favorite dishes for us, which we shared. One was a mutton dish, which you eat by taking a small piece of roti and scooping up the mutton w/sauce with it. Quite scrumptious. The next dish was a rice, chicken, and berry concoction, with delicate crispy fried onions on top. This dish was heavenly, and I have decided I have to learn to make it. We took a long cab ride, in heavy traffic, back to Emily’s apartment in Bandara, and here we are, resting, relaxing, and computing for now. So far, I have had a wonderful two days in Mumbai. It is amazing how much of the city I have seen, even if just by taxi. Emily went for a run, so this gives me a chance to check email, Facebook, and put up this post. A few superficial impressions thus far: India is quite fascinating, and the contrasts are incredible. The woman are absolutely beautiful, flowers and jewels, take your pick of metaphor. I really think western women should adopt some of their clothing! While you see quite a few women in western clothing – jeans, etc. – many, many wear the traditional garb and the colors/fabrics are quite lovely. You will often see a woman draped in flowing color riding side saddle on the back of a motorcyle. You will also often see women dressed in all black – burkas, etc. The men are dressed in varied styles also – some western, some traditional Indian or Muslim style clothing. The traffic is crazy! I really cannot figure out how there are not lots of accidents, but there must be a method in the madness. I have not seen any traffic accidents, and the cars are generally in very good shape. Once, I confess I almost got run over by a motorcycle (totally my fault) and I received a well-deserved daughter lecture on looking both ways before crossing the street. I thought I did, but am quickly learning to be very, very careful.

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Lynndia – Day 1

Welcome! This is my blog, begun Easter morning 2013 from Mumbai, India, about my two week trip to visit my daughter, Emily. I decided that I need a blog name, but what to call it? “Lynn’s Visit to India” is so mundane and predictable – it was immediately discounted. My next consideration was “Lynn vs. India,” but that sounds adversarial. I finally settled for ‘Lynndia.” I want to experience India, as best I can in a short two weeks,” by fusing me with the country as much as possible. This blog will mainly be description and not evaluation, although I am sure I will insert my impressions.

 

Day 1 & 2 (March 29-30, 2013)

         The flights to India were uneventful – a very good thing. I boarded the United Airlines plane at 3:10 pm in Richmond, and the plane left promptly at 3:35. As soon as we were at top altitude, they announced we were descending into DC. I don’t think I have ever taken such a quick plane ride.

         After an hour layover, I boarded the plane to Zurich, Switerland. As I wandered through a long first class with their modern, roomy, technology laden cubicles, I dared to think, “Is this me?” Of course not, this was first class. I found my seat in economy.

         For some reason, when I fly, I often have the luck to be seated my a nice looking, pleasant, young male. This time was no exception. I was seated beside a 28 year old (my daughter’s age) Swiss mechanical engineer – someone I would have loved to introduce my daughter to. He was delightful and we enjoyed a nice conversation. However, my seat happened to have defective TV/overhead light equipment. A light glaring into your face while the rest of the plane is fairly dark makes for poor sleeping conditions, so the stewardess moved me to the seat in front of my first seat. This time (of course) I was also seated beside a pleasant young man from Nairobi. Although not an educator, he is involved in facilitating educational experiences for children living in poverty in Nairobi and we had a nice conversation about education with a focus on, of course, literacy. It has only been since 2002 that Nairobi has had compulsory education!

         After a flight of about 6 hours, we landed in Zurich, Switzerland. There was not enough time to see anything of Switzerland, unfortunately, and I had a 3 hour wait in the airport. The next plane was Air Swiss, and I found it to be more to my liking than United Airlines. The economy seats were slightly more comfortable (not by much), and the plane was less crowded. I managed to slide over to the center aisle, which had three empty seats in a row, which made for a more comfortable 8 hour flight to Mumbai. After a nice dinner (for an airplane) of chicken, salad, potatoes, and a complimentary glass of white wine, I managed to fall asleep. Sleeping on a plane is difficult at best, so I would sleep an hour or two, briefly wake up stiff and slightly change position, and then fall back asleep. When I finally awoke for good, we were 90 minutes from Mumbai and I was surprised to find I felt rested. They served up a small meal which included a spicy, spinach and potato “posh wrap” and mango swiss ice cream. We were also treated to a small swiss chocolate easter egg and a hot wet hand towel.

         The landing in Mumbai was also uneventful. I easily made it through customs and headed to the duty free shop to pick up a couple bottles of vodka for the trip. Then off to the baggage claim. Immediately an Indian took control, found my bags, loaded everything into a cart, and took me outside, where Emily was waiting. I have to admit I was very glad to see her!!!

         We took a cab from the airport to Emily’s apartment in Khar, a suberb of Mumbai. After a quick shower, off for a midnight walk in the area. Then home to a deep night’s sleep. I awoke to the sound of lots of birds chirping. Will write more later!

         

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