Sunday, 21 September 2014

India - Week One

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Agra, killing a few hours before we head back to Delhi. There's too much time to not be bored, and too little to go do something else, so I thought I'd just catch up on some journal writing and blogging. 

The last week has been a lot of fun. We landed in a pretty group of people in our Intrepid tour. As usual there has been someone who fits in less well with the group, and some who are quieter, but on the whole the dynamic has been quite positive. Our tour leader Veerendra is quite knowledgable, and it took him a few days but his less serious side finally showed up, and with it, his cheeky grin. Five of us are going on to do another tour tomorrow so hopefully the guide is just as good. 

We began, and will end, in Delhi. And I have to say, ugh. Delhi is doubtlessly my least favourite place so far. It feels like just another soulless, sprawling city, where everyone wants something from you; and whilst certain elements have been interesting, the prospect of rattling around Delhi tomorrow and again on the day I leave India does not fill me with joy. But I will have good company so I'm sure I'll make the most of it. 

Also, to be fair to Delhi, my impression of the hotel didn't help. Although I didn't expect great things, having travelled fairly extensively in developing countries, I was still a little disappointed. And that was probably because 1. The room was stuffy and claustrophobic because it had no windows at all, just a wall decorated with alternating panels of padded vinyl and a semi-reflective surface; 2. The entire bathroom was covered in dust (but not the rest of the room...); 3. There was a pigeon living in the exhaust fan of the bathroom, which probably contributed to the dust and also meant that, every so often, a feather would float out; and 4. There were maggots in our beds. (Do you like how I saved that one until last? 😊)

We got up to a few things in our first couple of days in Delhi. My BFF Ness and I explored the area around the hotel and ate street food for breakfast for the princely sum of about 40c, so imagine our horror at ending up in hotels on tour where you have to spend seven whole dollars on breakfast. The horror! (That's a joke, by the way. Compared to the $20 or so you'd spend back home, it's obviously very affordable, despite often eating at establishments geared to cater for tourists with sensitive stomachs.)

We went on a tuk-tuk adventure (to be clear, I'm aware they're supposed to be called motor rickshaws (or a variation thereof), but they have taken to calling them tuk-tuks when they tout their services, presumably to cater to tourists) with a driver who in hindsight stalked us back from breakfast. After a dispute about where he was taking us (he wanted to take us to an emporium and to a tourism office where he obviously got a commission), he finally took us around the war memorial, and then to the parliament and prime minister's residences, where we had our first taste of domestic Indian tourists including us in family photos. And then we had a brush with the law. Our increasingly dodgy tuk-tuk driver didn't tell us it costs RS$500 (AUD$10) to get into there, and he evaded the fee on the way out which resulted in a very minor police chase and some red lights run. When he finally lost himself in traffic and felt safe and explained, we scolded him and he seemed suitably chastened. He took us to a fairly nice garden...and on the way home he insisted on taking us back to the emporium. We finally yielded when he explained that he got a lunch voucher if we looked around, so ten minutes in air conditioning wasn't the end of the world when you're hot and jet lagged. Anyway, that was our big adventure that lasted about 90 minutes, cost $2.10 and taught us what to watch out for so it was an afternoon well spent!

Once we'd met the group, we went for an adventure on the Metro, where we discovered there is a Women's Only carriage. And it was actually quite comforting. There was also a magical force field between our carriage and the next, despite there being no physical barrier. The metro was clean, new, ran well and was safe - bags were X-rayed and passengers walked through metal detectors - so I do quite highly rate their metro system. Just be prepared for the gentle push 😉

We wandered around a market, had a masala chai, visited the largest mosque in India (spoiler alert: it was pretty huge), rode in a bicycle rickshaw, and visited a Sikh temple and saw their community kitchen where they cater for 3,000 hungry people each day. And we sweated. A lot. Luckily I was able to bond with one group member in particular over how ridiculously sweaty we were. One week in and it has become par for the course, but early on it was amusing. 

From Delhi we moved onto Jaipur by train, which included a little breakfast brought to you on a tray. It was somewhat reminiscent of the long-distance buses in South America.

Jaipur itself was very pretty after the grime of Delhi, and our hotel was very 1950's British, with a nice lawn, cane lounges and simple but clean rooms in a hotel that both has windows (yay!) and was also built for the heat (yay again!). 

Highlights from Jaipur were a visit to the quite incredible Amber Fort, an obligatory (but interesting) visit to a textile factory where they showed us how they do block printing using natural dyes, taking in a surprisingly compelling movie about a female Indian boxing champion (no subtitles!), visiting the city palace museum and the observatory, which contained the world's largest sundial, and an incredible (but for totally different reasons that I won't elaborate on here!) oil massage that cost all of about $15. 

From Jaipur we caught a private bus to Karauli, where we stayed in a hotel that was the former residence of one of the Kings of one of the 22 Rajasthani princely states. He's still king, by the way, but it's a ceremonial role. He also still stays at the palace, but rents most of it out as a hotel to pay for the upkeep. It was a pretty amazing experience to stay in a palace, which, if I were to hazard a guess, was decorated more or less as it had always been. But yep, pretty sure I could handle living like a princess!

We also did a village walk in Karauli, and visited a Hari Krishna temple, where the women were very welcoming and invited the girls in to join them in their singing and dancing. It was quite an experience. Walking back through the village we encountered so many friendly children who just wanted to say hello. You could tell they hadn't made the connection between tourism and making a profit, which in hindsight is why our guide discouraged us from leaving the palace grounds. It was very refreshing and is just as it should be. 

Back on the bus, and next stop was Agra, via Fatehpur Sikri, a former Mughul palace and adjacent, second-largest in India, mosque. Like Amber Fort, the palace was the kind of place you could spend a few hours alone with a camera...but no such luck. The guide told us an interesting story of the justice system of the time, and how murderes and rapists would be sentenced to Death by Elephant. They had this generally quite pleasant elephant they kept tethered to a rock, and when execution time rolled around they would feed it a plant that caused it to go crazy and trample whatever was in front of it - in this case, a murderer or rapist. Quite novel, definitely gory, and not at all fair on the elephant (nor surprising, given this was the emperor who came to the throne at 13 and would use women to play naked Blind Man's Bluff and other, naked, human-sized takes on traditional board games. He was obviously at a loose end as to what to do with his power for a time there...). On the bright side they obviously appreciated the poor creature, because they constructed quite a spectacular tomb for it!

Finally to Agra, where the streets seem to be better-made, and with less traffic than other cities. We entered the Taj Mahal at sunrise, but unfortunately the fog prevented us from getting the spectacular sunrise photos we'd hoped for. Still, the early start meant fewer people, so more photo opportunities and plenty if time to just chill out and take it all in. 

The feeling I got from the Taj Mahal was incredibly powerful. Obviously things are a bit different for kings with bottomless pockets, but the love the emperor had for his wife was almost palpable. An awe-inspiring structure, and a surprisingly peaceful place to visit despite the crowds. 

Later, we saw the room at the Agra fort where the emperor was imprisoned by his son for spending too much money on grand structures (hah!), and from it you could see the Taj Mahal. Legend has it that he would live out his days there, weeping for his dead wife as he looked out over the Taj Mahal that he would never again visit. 

The fort itself was pretty cool, too. I mean, this place had two moats, one wet one filled with crocodiles, and one dry one filled with tigers. It doesn't get much better than that!

So now we wait for the train. I'm trying to take it easy this afternoon because I have the triple-whammy of having sweated in the sun for half the day, being up at 4:45am and having an upset stomach. Our train also won't get in until after midnight tonight, so rest is probably a good idea. 

I hope that wasn't too tedious for you to read, but like I said, I have time to kill! And hopefully the pictures helped break things up a bit. I haven't taken many on my phone yet, as evidenced by the gaping pictorial holes in this story, but I'll try harder next week. 

Stay tuned for more adventures. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Monday, 1 September 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Days 96 - 100 - FREEEEEEDOMMMMM!!!!

I can't believe I made it here, to Day 100. At least I think it's Day 100. Given that most of my posts were written the day after they happened, I wouldn't be at all surprised if that had been jumbled up a bit, but eh *shrugs* 

And whilst it's true that I actually only posted on 39 of those 100 days, it's still a pretty good effort on my part. Plus of course I participated in VEDA, which meant that I was vlogging for the entire of August (except for 3 days)... so really, I blogged in one form or another on 67 out of 100 days, it's just that it wasn't necessarily about awesomeness, and it was over at my YouTube channel rather than here. 

Anyway, I guess I should tell you what was awesome about the last few days before I leave these 100 awesome days behind me...

Day 96

Thursday was productive at work, which felt awesome. And then my BFF Ness came over for tea, and we decided to celebrate some awesome stuff with a bottle of bubbles. She said "something better than Yellow, but not as good as Moet" so I had decided to go for a pretty decent bottle, around the $40-$50 mark, because sometimes a gal's just gotta celebrate awesomeness in style. And when I walked into the bottle-o the Bollinger was on sale for $60, marked down from $110. Now, I've never tried Bollinger before, being a girl who normally buys $10 bubbles to add to punch, but I knew that this was too good an opportunity to pass up. So I splashed out... and it was a grievous error, because now all I want to drink is $110 champagne, because it really is that awesome. Damnit!!!

Day 97

Friday! Whoohoo! Another productive day at work, and then off to a quiz night with The Kiwi and my BFF Kaye from school. Our team didn't even come close to winning, HOWEVER we did win the travel round (entirely thanks to myself and one other team member), which resulted in an awesome box of Lindt chocolates for the team.

Day 98

Weekend! Whoohoo! The Kiwi and I took our sweet time waking up, then we headed off to one of my favourite markets where we ate some pretty amazing felafel for brunch, drank a nice spiced chai to get me in the zone for my upcoming trip to India, and bought some of my favourite soap.

After that the day got even better, with a hike in the Kinglake National Park. I had done this particular walk - the Masons Falls circuit - twice before. Once, when I was about eight years old, it was stinking hot day and I had an asthma attack doing it. And the second time was with my BFF Ness in preparation for my first post-highschool hike, to Mount Feathertop, and we were carrying packs full of blankets and phone books to give us a bit of an idea of how hard it would be. Suffice it to say that both of those experiences were somewhat more negative than the experience we had on Saturday.

We were on a bit of a deadline on account of the fact that the park shut at 5pm and we didn't get on the trail until 1:15pm, and with 13km to walk including a wholllllle bunch of uphill, I set off at a pretty cracking pace (er, for me!). And I kept that up for the first half of the walk. I faded in the second half, especially in the last quarter, which was all uphill. But my heart didn't play up, and my lungs didn't play up, and although my legs felt somewhat leaden they did keep on going. So I was pretty impressed with myself for doing so well, and despite the massive blister that formed on the bottom of my big toe, it was a pretty awesome hike.

We popped by to say hi to mum and pick up my passport with the new visa for India in it on the way home (yay!) and the day ended with a pretty awesome charcoal chicken dinner and an episode of Vikings, which I am slowly but surely becoming addicted to.

Day 99

The last day of winter, and it truly had me convinced that it was summer. I really, actually got my legs out and wore a skirt! And I wore it with a light t-shirt and thongs (flip-flops, jandals, whatever), and didn't have to put a jumper (sweater, cardigan, windcheater, whatever) until quite late in the day.

On top of that, despite the fact that I had to work on a Sunday, I was pretty productive doing that on Sunday afternoon, and knocked over a bunch of stuff that has been haunting me for a good long while. And THAT felt awesome.

On top of that, I played Trivial Persuit (and won. Duh.), which I lovvvvvve.

On top of that, I encountered a situation that I had been pretty nervous about, and it actually went pretty well, despite the fact I was pretty sure I was going to throw up for the hour or two that preceded the event. It's not something I'm going to talk about here, at least, not right now, but it's not something I ever contemplated having to encounter so it took a bit of doing to wrap my head around it. But it's all good now, which was awesome. In fact, it turned out to be a pretty awesome day. So yay to that!

Day 100

Hah. Well for one thing, I've finished this 100 days of torture awesome. And, once again, I've gotten a heap done at work. And, being a Monday, I had a yoga class this evening, which was awesome because a) it's my usual, awesome yoga class and b) I actually felt a bit stronger tonight, like I am beginning to tangibly improve. Before that, I got an enthusiastic welcome from my Housebaby, which was awesome. And then she decided that she wanted nothing more than to put her hand in my mouth, and there's not much you can do about that when she sets her mind to it... so that was kind of icky and cute at the same time.

On my way home from Yoga I had an awesome chat with Ness, and then The Kiwi cooked me a pretty awesome dinner. Life is good :-)

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

So the purpose of this 100 Days of Awesome was to help me count my blessings as they come. At the beginning I really needed it, and it really helped. And then - and you probably all noticed this - I met The Kiwi and suddenly it was a lot easier to count my blessings, and I didn't really need to catalogue them Every. Single. Day. anymore.

I definitely think it's valuable to think about the good stuff that has happened to you every day. I guess people from certain backgrounds would consider it to be a kind of prayer or meditation, but whatever you want to call it, it's worth doing and I strongly encourage you to give it a try yourself.

I had a pretty awesome 100 Days - hiking adventures, trips to Tassie, new boyfriend, birthday parties, free movie tickets, made several awesome cakes, started to get back on track with my health and fitness, visited a few wineries... the list goes on. And despite the fact that I had other crap going on, mostly with my family, it really was a pretty awesome 100 days, partly because of recognising all those awesome things.

I hope your last 100 days were just as awesome as mine, and I'd love to hear about your own awesomeness some time!