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It’s a Small World After All – Cayman Islands #1 – Thursday, March 2, 2006

I took last week off to prepare for my Organizational Behaviour final and this meant that I neglected my blog. Yesterday, I caught up on my daily gratitude posts from the past week and decided to hold off on a travel babble message. It’s a new day and a new month, so here’s the first post for April.

Hello all! (yes, another long travel e-mail from Narmin…delete it or skip through whatever bores you.)

I arrived in the Cayman’s yesterday afternoon. I was on the red-eye flight to Toronto on Wednesday morning (Tuesday night) 12:25 a.m. and there was a woman with a two-year old in the seat behind me. The two-year old CRIED FOR FOUR HOURS STRAIGHT. Another experience that makes me think “NO KIDS!!!!” Personally, I woulda given the crying toddler some cough medicine or something to knock her out (and she did have a cough so it’s not like I’m promoting medicating kids unnecessarily!) I was dead tired by the time we landed in Toronto at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday and my flight to Grand Cayman was not until 10:00 a.m. so I walked around like a zombie and tried to sleep in airport chairs – NOT comfortable. The woman with crying child was on my GC flight, too. Thankfully she was many rows behind me this time, and I slept for most of the flight. I was sitting near an Italian family that lives in the Caymans. The couple had two kids, a two-year-old and a five-year-old. Near the end of the flight I told the woman, Sylvia, that she had really well-behaved, and more importantly, extremely QUIET children and she told me that she and her husband have trained their children well and that the kids have been traveling with them since they were three-months-old. I told her about my TO flight and she was horrified that the mother hadn’t done anything ( i.e. cough medicine) about her crying child.

The whole point of the long story above is that when I landed in GC and Michael met me at the airport, he had already heard about my bad flight to TO – Sylvia’s husband was one of Michael’s patients (he’s a physiotherapist) – now I know first-hand about news traveling fast in a small town/island. The woman with the crying child is also Caymanian so she’ll probably hear all about my complaints, too. Michael and Christine have lived here for several years (Michael four years and Christine two years, since she and Michael got married) and they say they are pretty much used to the fast-travelling-news – but it made Michael laugh to catch me off-guard.

So Grand Cayman…did you know it is not pronounced Kay-mun…it’s Kay-Man (like Jamaicans say “Man”) I never knew that until I heard the locals (natives) say it today. Weird.

GC is very different than the other beach destinations I’ve visited. First off, everything looks shiny and new. Hurricane Ivan happened just about two years ago so a lot of buildings are new as a result of near-total devastation by Ivan. But, GC is also a pretty affluent place, so I’m guessing it always looked “new”. It’s also a very clean island – I have not seen any garbage lying around and the streets are clean and well-kept. I didn’t think an island of 40,000 people could have a traffic jam but Michael dropped me off in town on his way to work today and I got to experience rush hour, traffic jam and see how a small fender-bender can block the flow of traffic the same as an accident on the Whitemud would. People drive on the “wrong” side of the street here and Michael and Christine say there’s no sense of traffic rules but after spending time in India, most places seem to have an orderly flow of traffic, even if they really don’t. And pedestrians have some semblance of right of way here, although not always, so Michael and Christine tell me.

I spent the morning out by the pool 10 feet from Michael and Christine’s back door. It was very peaceful and relaxing – I am definitely getting in my RnR so far. Then I spent five hours at the beach. Cayman Islands are surrounded by the Carribean Sea. I am so glad I took swimming lessons leading up to this trip – I still can’t swim well but I felt comfortable being in the water (BY MYSELF) and even went in as far as neck high, floated (it is WAY easier to float in salt-water than chlorine water…but I bet all of you knew that) and I even swam a little bit but didn’t go too far out (cuz that’s still a bit too scary). But YAY me. To really appreciate this you have to know that up until four months ago, I was too afraid to go more than chest-deep into any water and had only played in the ocean with Janet by my side – six-foot-tall Janet who would save me if the big, bad waves got too scary ūüôā The water was very calm, hardly any waves at all (well no big ones, anyway) and a beautiful, clear, blue-green.

During my lazing around in the sun, I read almost 200 pages of The Chronicles of Narnia; I think I missed all the religious overtones when I read the books as a kid. Having said that, Narnia is awesome beach reading and I don’t remember a lot of the stories so I am enjoying it even more.

Wayne/Lorette/Cory – how did the Hobbema announcement go? I was thinking of all of you, and especially Wayne, between 10 and 12 today (we’re two hours ahead here) and hoping that everything was going alright. Honest! Oh and funny, but true, story…I took my token with me on the plane and it’s on a mini handcuffs (really, thumbcuffs) keychain and the guys at airport security had to go through my bag to ensure I didn’t have any other “dangerous” stuff in my carry on. They didn’t confiscate them but told me I should probably put them in my checked luggage on the way back. I know it’s cuz I’m brown. ūüôā

And no, I haven’t checked if I can access my work account with the token but I will at some point.

Tomorrow I am going to check out the fitness centre that is part of the amenities at Michael and Christine’s complex and then it’s off to explore George Town a little bit and then probably head to a different beach for the afternoon. There’s seven miles of beautiful, white sand beach here. The theme of this trip…RnR. Michael and Christine are great hosts and have made me feel really at home at their place and they are even better hosts for discouraging me from filling my days with tours and events. So on that note, I think I will now call it a night.

Narmin

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Going with the Flow…Boldly – Message #9 – Back in Delhi/Jaipur Recap – September 19, 2005

Hey all,

 

I’m back in Delhi now and I leave for the airport in 14 hours…the past two weeks have flown by. Being back in Delhi after a week in Rajasthan is pretty much sensory overload for me. I remember thinking how things were slower in Delhi than what I had expected and other than the traffic and the challenges in crossing the road, my initial reaction to Delhi was that it was not as big or crowded as the Delhi I had created in my mind. Well, after spending a week in Rajasthan, where the biggest city is 4.7 million and the smallest town I visited was no more than 5,000, Delhi is quite the shock to my system today. I could feel a sense of dread washing over me even as we drove into Delhi last night, with the horns blazing from every car within earshot. This is something I will NOT miss.

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Today I’ve ventured out into Delhi with more confidence than I had the first day I was here. Knowing that my command of Hindi is sufficient to get me through most things is comforting. I am aslo a lot less passive around the vendors and am not getting pulled into stores where I have no intention of making a purchase. Wahoo, I feel empowered.

 

In a couple of hours I am heading to the Canadian High Commission where I am hoping to meet a couple of RCMP¬†employees posted in Delhi. I’m really looking forward to this as most of you can probably guess. I will also get a chance to see Juli‘s office (Border Services Agency) and meet some of her colleagues. Juli says they think I’m Snuffalupagus (sp? from Sesame Street – Big Bird’s “imaginary” friend) because although she has been talking about me leading up to and during my trip to India, I have not yet met any of her colleagues.

 

After that we are planning to go to the cinema for one last Bollywood flick – Mangal Pande – a film directed by Amir Khan (Lagaan) and has been highly praised in India and abroad. Juli and I managed to watch Salaam Namaste at Raj Mandir, Jaipur‘s famous cinema. What a beautiful movie house! The movie was really funny and although the ending was a bit of a letdown (not the conclusion, per se, but just how it was reached) overall it was a good story line and well done. Plus, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan are just an awesome duo. Probably the best part of this movie experience was the reactions of the Indian men during scenes where women were wearing bathing suits/bikins and when Preity and Saif Ali Khan were kissing (actual on-screen kissing, which if you are familiar with Bollywood, you know is not a very common occurrence). Anyway, that was worth the whole movie experience and even if the movie had been a dud, it would have been worth the time, money and effort. Effort because our rickshaw driver wanted to overcharge us, which I would have meekly allowed (have vs. have not guilt) but Juli refused to allow. So our rickshaw driver told us to find another way home after the movie (originally he was going to wait for us). Anyway, it was a tremendous effort to get back to our hotel because most of the drivers had no idea where our hotel was and we forgot to get a business card with the address. We ended up being given a ride by a local business man after a cycle rickshaw-walla got us hopelessly lost. The business man seemed genuinely nice and offered to help us if we needed anything else while we were in Jaipur. Trustingly, I told him my name was Anu…yup, I’m cool.

 

Other than finally watching a Bollywood film in Jaipur, we also did a tour of Amber Fort where Juli and I got to ride an elephant – awesome experience! HUGE animals and some of the elephants had beautifully painted trunks and were just majestic. We also witnessed a dozen elephants bathing in a “elephant bath” – a large body of water below the Amber Fort. I have tons and tons and tons of pictures of elephants. We also went shopping in the market – Jaipur is the shopping capital of Rajasthan and the experience in the markets in Jaipur was way better than my experience in Jodhpur. So I feel like I’ve redeemed myself and am back to being a shopper now. Speaking Hindi truly pays off, as many of the shopkeepers told me they were offering a better deal to me and Juli than they would to Juli alone, simply because I was an NRI who spoke Hindi. Wahoo, Bollywood pays off.

Elephant ride at Amber Fort

 

One of the other stops in Jaipur was to a factory where carpets and textiles are made. The carpets we saw are some of the most popular in India and take upwards of 10 months to create involving 16 stages and more than 20 people throughout the process. The factory we went to was a co-op involving 950 families consisting of more than 5,000 people.

Getting creative with textiles

We also went to a place called Jantar Mantar which is a set of astrological instruments and buildings used to make astronomical predictions and time-telling instruments. Being the daredevil that I am, I decided to climb some rickety steps up the Aquarius monument (my sign) and once up there, I realized the stairs were rickety and narrow and that there was a steep drop on either side…so I¬†froze and could not come down the steps by myself. My tour guide was afraid of heights so Juli had to come to my rescue. Phew. I’m glad Juli was there with me! Later we both decided to climb a ton of stairs up another monument and got more than we bargained for as the steps were each between 12 and 18 inches high – quad workout extraordinaire. On the way down, Juli’s knees kept threatening to give out and my quads kept turning into jelly. My quads are still sore and the Jantar Mantar trip was TWO DAYS AGO! Pathetic.

 

Our second night in Jaipur we went to Chauki-Dhani (sp?) which is basically a cultural village offering tourists access to Jaipur/Rajasthani culture, foods, entertainment, and goods all in one complex (Kirstie – this was like the Maori Village we went to in Rotorua). This was an awesome part of our trip to Jaipur and we had a lot of fun. Ate some good food while being entertained by a tabla player and a ghazal singer (who was young, looked like he wanted to be Italian – hair and clothes – but had a most powerful, amazing voice). Before dinner, Juli was dragged onto a few stages where she learned some traditional Rajasthani dances, cunningly, I avoided being pulled onto stage by hiding behind taller people in the crowds and¬†claimining not to understand Hindi or English when approached by a dancer at one stage…ha ha ha (evil laughter). After dinner we took a camel ride (second time in three days for me and Juli’s first) it was a brief ride but enough for Juli to cross off one of her “must do” items. Then we got to ride in a bull cart and Juli was offered a chance to steer the bull (hmm, these Indians really give preferential treatment to obvious tourists)…but when some locals crossed into Juli’s path, I’m glad I wasn’t the one steering the bulls…they missed the bull horns by inches…stupid people not watching where they are going…hello, this is still India where pedestrians don’t have the right of way, people! There was a great market at this village so we ended up buying even more stuff…hey, I saved up all my shopping for my last 3-4 days in India…well, except for the shopping I did at the beginning of my trip, and along the way. But really, I can fit all my stuff in the luggage I brought with me and I haven’t had to discard many of my belongings. And besides, me buying stuff helps the economy which reduces my guilt and so it’s a win-win situation for everyone!

 

I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to India…there’s still a lot of world to see. But I am very glad I made this trip. As I said in one of my first e-mails, I was told by many that I will either love India or hate it. And as I mentioned at the beginning of my trip, there are things about India that I dislike (traffic, noise pollution) and some things that impress me (the energy of the people, the strong cultural roots, and most of all the innocence and hope of the children). However, unlike at the beginning of my trip, I think the things I love about this country far outweight the things that bother me. I have always been pretty emphatic about my identity as a Canadian and while that hasn’t changed, the past two weeks have really opened my eyes to the ways in which my East Indian heritage, background, and culture have shaped me. There is still a long list of things that I detest about the Indian way of life and particularly the way women are still treated in this culture (and although this is changing bit by bit, it is still prevalent enough for me to notice and shake my head). But, overall, I can see why the people of this country are so resilient and hard working, why they have such strong roots and why their way of life is as it should be…for them. I respect that and maybe understand it a bit better. While I still don’t think it is for me, I accept that it is right for them rather than wanting to come here and CHANGE EVERYTHING. My talks with my various tour guides and drivers has been a big and valuable part of this realization and I feel very fortunate to have met so many incredible ambassadors along the way. Interacting with so many of this country’s young kids has also been a very positive experience…and I will not soon forget their¬†warm welcomes, big smiles, enthusiastic waves, curiousity or the sense of hope, energy and innocence that is ever present in the faces of these young children.

India's youth

Now on that ever so sappy note, I am going to sign off so that I can once again battle the crowded streets of Delhi to return to my hotel to empty my backpack of my purchases before I head out to the High Commission, which I think will be a fantastic experience.

India Gate at night

I have long layovers in Hong Kong (5 hours?) and Vancouver (3 hours?) so this is probably not the last e-mail you will receive from me.

 

And of course, I am looking forward to seeing many of you…and taking up tons of your time to¬† share with¬†you every one of my photos and many more stories.

We are Bollywood

Narmin ūüôā

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Dancing Naked in the Rain – Safe Arrival – Jaipur – Message #8 – Friday, September 16, 2005

Very quick message

 

I was pretty apprehensive about taking the night train, by myself, from Jodhpur to Jaipur. I ended up in a sleeper compartment with a top bunk and there were four other tourists in the front half of my compartment. However, the remainder of the passengers were men. I still am not accustomed to the male-dominated society that is India. Anyway, my apprehension continued until I arrived in Jaipur and while I did manage to sleep on the train (hello, this is me, I can sleep anywhere!) my sleep was in fits and starts.¬†All this to say that I did arrive safely and that Bollywood movies have instilled in me an irrational fear of India’s railway…then again, maybe this a case of “better safe than sorry”.

 

So now to what you really want to hear…

 

Camel ride in Osiyan (can’t believe how many ways I mis-spelled this place) was awesome. Well worth the drive there and the crazy experiences returning to Jodhpur on the “highway” in the dark. I thought highway driving was a challenge for me in Canada…I would NEVER drive in India – highway or otherwise. Having said that, all of my drivers (even taxi and rickshaw, but especially my paid drivers) have been incredible drivers, with super quick reflexes and an uncanny ability to anticipate what other drivers are going to do…must be part of the Hindustani genetic code. Anyway…Osiyan is part of the desert but because of the monsoon season, there is tons of vegetation all around Osiyan, even the sand dunes were covered in greenery. Despite this, the camel ride is something I will not soon forget. There was a steady drizzle throughout the ride, which cooled the desert environment somewhat and it was quite a pleasant evening.

 

Reetu, Rita – Remember our painful horse riding experiences? Who could forget…anyway, not the case with camels. Highly recommended.

 

Jumping back to roads/driving…India roads are very bumpy and there is no constant flow of traffic even on the highway. So, next time I complain about roads in Alberta I may think twice…or not. I may have higher standards for home after this.

 

Dogs in heat…all along the route to Osiyan I saw dogs chasing dogs…no wonder there is such a huge stray dog population in India. I think Bob Barker needs to air his PSAs here…would be a good idea.

 

Kids in India are so cute…my common refrain. On the way to Osiyan we had quite the crazy weather – lots of rain for portions. In many places along the road (villages and small towns) I witnessed kids taking off their clothes and dancing naked in the rain. What a cool sight! I am discovering that kids here are quite positive and go with the flow. Another good lesson for me¬†– some of the kids have very little and to see them experience pure pleasure and joy from dancing naked in the rain is such a humbling experience for me.

 

IST – Indian Standard Time is a myth. East Indians and Hindustanis always claim IST to explain why we are always late for everything (I’m usually punctual but the odd time I’m not so I claim my background as the reason for my tardiness). But this is SO NOT true. All of my trains, tours, guides etc have been on time. Any tardiness has been caused solely by me. Hmm, way to break a stereotype.

 

Singh…I finally found out why most Rajasthanis have “Singh” as part of their name…it is because most Rajasthanis are part of the Rajput (royal) class and in “the olden days” Rajasthan was either ruled by Maharajas (kings) or Maharanas (kings who are warriors). The lion is a symbol of Rajasthan and of the various maharaja/maharana families and in the local language, “Singh” means “courage” which is what a lion signifies. So, having Singh as part of one’s name is a deeply rooted tradition.

 

My Canadian sensibilities get offended and re-offended every time I see someone pick his/her nose…just happened right now and in between gagging I thought I’d share the experience with you. Ick.

 

Climbing people who witnessed me camp…I used my first squat facility a few days ago. Too much info but I had to share it. I feel like I am a complete person now. I prefer the European commodes but hey at least I know I can use a squat! And speaking of squatting…most often when I see people sitting (side of road, as they work, as they eat, etc etc) they sit either “Indian style” (cross legged) or in the squat position. I tried that in my hotel room and found it really difficult…again, must be part of the genetic code.

 

This afternoon I am going to Raj Mandir, Jaipur/Rajasthan’s famous cinema. I am going to watch “Salaam/Namaste” which has been highly promoted here, has some catchy songs and features Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan (a well suited co-star duo). I am super-hyped about this.

 

Also hoping to visit an Aga Khan Foundation Canada project while I’m in Jaipur…Juli has been organizing this and will hopefully have it arranged by the time she arrives here tonight. Also, we’re staying in a heritage hotel here, too, so another palace experience. This one is not as comfortable as the one in Jodhpur but it is truly beautiful.

 

See many of you in less than a week…can’t believe my travel adventure is coming to a rapid close. Then again, I am soooo looking forward to washing my hair with Canadian water…and just having a proper shower, washing my clothes NOT by hand, and eating a cheese pizza! Ah simple things.

 

Okay, signing off…

 

Narmin

 

Turban-wrapping demo in Udaipur

Family of musicians in Udaipur

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With Sincere Appreciation

Thank you to all my fellow bloggers who have liked or commented on one of my blog posts in the past few weeks. The Big Blog Exchange has motivated me to blog more consistently (and to finally share my travel adventures!) and whether I make the cut for the exchange, at least this experience has introduced me to some new blogs and friends. Thanks, in particular, to those who have opted to follow my blog – your support helps to motivate me to continue staying on top of my blog posts. Thank you!

If you don’t know about the Big Blog Exchange, check it out and if you want, vote for me.¬†You can vote for as many blogs as you like.

Thanks, again, for your support.

Narmin

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Divine Simplicity – Message #7 – Leaving Jodhpur – Thursday, September 15, 2005

I am NOT addicted to e-mail. Just had to get that out. I was supposed to be on my way to Osiyan for my camel ride by 2:00 this afternoon but it was pushed back until 4:00 so I have¬†one and¬†a half¬†hours to kill. I’ve already checked out of my hotel room (which I keep forgetting to mention. I am staying at the Ajit Bhawan, a heritage hotel that used to be a palace. A prince continues to live in one half of the property. So, I have now added to my India experience sleeping in a palace and feeling like I am part of royalty. I already know many of you refer to me as Princess Narmin (as I also refer to myself in jest) so this was quite fitting.) and it’s raining out and too hot to sit in the garden…so here I am, sitting in a subtly lit room, e-mailing away.

 

Today has been a rainy, humid, hot day and I am asking myself if I am crazy to be travelling 90 minutes to Osiyan to go experience camel riding in the desert…can I really handle any more heat? At least I get to travel in an air-conditioned vehicle. And I suppose I won’t have another opportunity to ride a camel in the desert in the near future…

 

My revelation of this week…I truly am a people person. I can hear many of you saying “DUH” but I was all excited about venturing out on my own this past week. However, after four days without much interpersonal communication (other than with my guides and drivers whom I did get to know fairly well, Narayan in Udaipur/Ranakpur moreso than Vikram the past two days in¬†Jodphur¬†due to language barriers – Narayan had an amazing command of the English language and I doubt I will meet another guide who is so fluent…although India has constantly surprised me so maybe I’m wrong on this assumption…) anyway…lack of interpersonal communication…yeah, I really do need people around me…sometimes not even to actually interact with them…just to have them around. The company/companionship…yeah. Important to me. Big surprise, once again. I don’t know if solo travel is for me…and I think the only reason it took me four days to come to this realization was the fact that I understand the local language/culture/way of life…I probably would have been in a tougher position in another country…so, yeah, good lesson learned.

 

This morning I went to visit the Bishnoi Village. The Bishnoi are a rural people who live very simple lives, protect wildlife, are complete vegetarians and who survive more or less on what is provided through nature. The first stop at the Village was at a Muslim family’s home (they are not Bishnoi; Bishnois are Hindu and the name Bishnoi means “29” alluding to the 29 rules followed by this caste). Anyway, the Muslim family living in this Village have a pottery business and I learned all about clay, how different things are made and then had a chance to try out the pottery wheel. The pottery is done by the man of the house and he was quite impressed with my first attempt at making a clay bowl…he said it was better than most first attempts. I found it quite challenging; especially since the demonstration made pottery look quite easy.

 

Making pottery in a Bishnoi Village

 

Second stop was at a home where I was offered Opium…I declined and although the man who offered it said it was fine that I declined he kept asking if I was sure I didn’t want to try it. He ended up having his share and mine too.

 

Next stop was at a Dhurry co-op. Dhurry’s are woven carpets and the one I visited is the home of a well-known Dhurrist (? don’t know if that is what they are called). The family has been making Dhurrys for 500 years and are VERY good at the art.

 

At all three stops, I was so impressed with the housing…felt like I was in a National Geographic story rather than observing reality…it is amazing how creative the village people are and can be. And also, for me it was quite an eye-opening experience to see how simple life can be and how the “modern world” is full of a lot of “extras” that really aren’t necessary. Doesn’t mean I am giving up all my material possessions but it is nice to see what is “necessary” vs what is luxury. I am sure my parents will be most pleased to read this.

 

Final stop was an antelope park…but it had started pouring just as we left the Dhurry so I did not see many animals. We were also travelling in a jeep and while it was nice to have the breeze, the rain was plentiful and we all got wet. We dried pretty quickly, though, too. I have to give MEC a plug here…all my quick dry travel clothing is awesome – very durable, cleans easily and dries quickly! Yay MEC!

 

The kids in the village – awesome! They are super friendly, adorable and sweet. They do not see many “foreigners” so they are super-hyped when they see someone new and follow behind the jeep, come up and say “hi”, ask for pens, etc, etc. I wish I had thought to bring some school supplies…much as I love my Canada flag pins, I know they are not useful to the kids…even though they are excited to get something, anything from a foreigner. I ended up giving the families we visited some money to thank them for letting me visit their home and for their hospitality.

 

My only weird experience today was having an older lady shout at me and shake her stick at me as we drove past her farm. I asked Vikram about that since I couldn’t understand what the heck she was shouting…he said she was admonishing me for my western dress and telling me a proper lady covers her face. Good to know. (In my defence, I was wearing long pants, socks, hiking shoes, a long-sleeved shirt and a bandana on my head…pretty well covered for a North American in a hot, humid country!)

 

On that note, this western girl must sign off…another tourist banging on the door to use the computer…hmm, this sharing business…interesting concept for me.

 

Narmin

 

Camel ride in Osiyan
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Not for the Faint of Heart – Message #6 – Jodhpur – Take 2 on Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hello again everyone!
I doubt I will have a chance to e-mail again until Friday sometime, depending on how functional Internet is in Jaipur and since I have been terrible at writing in my paper journal, I figure I will send out this last message today.
Earlier I had mentioned that I had not encountered any beggars in Rajasthan. Well I spoke too soon. Jodhpur is a city of 1.3 million and during today’s city tour, I was approached by half a dozen street people at every stop. It bothered me more today than it did in Delhi, Agra, Gwalior. I think because I was putting Rajasthanis on a bit of a pedestal because to this point their behaviour was so markedly different. But, my guide pointed out that Jodphur¬†is Rajasthan’s second largest city (follows Jaipur) and that begging is very common in this city (and moreso in Jaipur) because both cities are more accustomed to handouts from tourists.
One thing that was different, in addition to the beggars, there were many “street people” who were “street performers” and they would perform tricks, play instruments, sing, dance, etc for money. So, to assuage my “have vs. have not” guilt I decided to donate some rupees to many of the street performers. The problem with this decision is that once people know you are donating to performers, all of a sudden there are more and more performers. I ended up running out of small change and ended up being told to “go home” by one performer that I couldn’t “pay”. Mean man!
Another thing that was different here compared with other cities is that there are a lot of village people (even more than Udaipur, it seems, but then again, Jodhpur is more than twice the size of Udaipur) and many of the villagers are part of the lowest caste (the untouchables). The untouchables are fairly ill-treated and poorly educated in India (even thought the caste system no longer “officially” exists here, it is in reality very prevalent and sometimes suffocating). A lot of the children who were begging were part of the untouchables and despite¬†my guide telling them to return to their parents, we had a large group following us at a Mundore (sp?) Gardens. I felt really uncomfortable about this for a couple of reasons…one, these kids were literally filthy, some of them had open wounds and rashes or warts and although I feel horrible about this, I really did not want them to touch me. (I feel awful writing this and even thinking it at the time but at the same time I was quite seriously concerned about my own health and well being! Justifying, now.) Two, Rajasthan is split into four distinct geographic regions (each consisting of 3-4 large centres; Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur each belong to different regions of Rajasthan). Each of these regions has a unique dialect of Hindi (the rural, local language) and many of the villagers do not speak Hindi. So my second issue was that I could not communicate with the kids to ask them to stop “bothering me” to tell them that they would be better off getting an education rather than wasting their day begging from tourists.
My final stop of the day was at the Sardar market…it’s the local market and is one of the biggest and busiest in Rajasthan. My guide told me that people (tourists) normally spend at least an hour if not two in this market. I lasted for 30 minutes. The market was hugely crowded and quite cramped. Talk about having my Canadian roots reinforced through this experience. I really like my space and do not¬†react well to being manhandled by strangers. The market was so crowded that whether you wanted to be pushed around or not, you were…ack. I had to finally give up on my efforts to experience the local culture and ask my¬†guide to end the market experience way earlier than “normal” people…Vikram, my guide, got a huge laugh over my inability to deal with the crowds, the smells, the rickshaws with which I had repeated near collisions…aaaahhhh (primal scream). So, do I recommend Jodhpur, anyway? Yeah, I do. I think someone with thicker skin would handle it better than I did. But hey, I’m learning tons about myself during this trip and that can only be a good thing, right?
Gotta run…my time is up as there is another tourist wanting to send e-mail…learning to share.
Narmin
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The Land of the Maharajas – Jodphur – Message #5 – September 14, 2005

Hey all,

Just a quick message…my “access to Internet” woes continue. The Rajasthan area does not have very reliable Internet service so I have to practice being patient. Tough for me as most of you know!

At any rate, Rajasthan is a beautiful part of North India and as was the case with Udaipur, I am only in Jodphur on the recommendation of the High Commission’s travel agent, who is incredibly good at his job. Both Udaipur and Jodphur are places I am very glad I added to my travel list. These additions mean that I will not make it to Varanasi, which is one of the holiest places in India and one of the best experiences for a tourist is to observe Hindus go through their various rituals at the banks of the Ganga River…At first I really wanted to include that in my tour but Nara (travel agent) said it would take up a lot of travel time for something that would only require an hour to experience so he suggested Rajasthan instead and so far I am glad he did.

The people of Rajasthan are incredibly nice. A lot of the area is rural and the people living in this area have a fairly simple way of life. Most of the people I have met so far are very soft-spoken, polite and somewhat shy. What a contrast after Delhi! I also have not been approached by any beggars since leaving Gwalior and part of this must be due to the fact that some of the places I’ve been to around Rajasthan simply are off the beaten path and therefore people have not become accustomed to getting money or goods from foreigners. Although I “look” Indian, I have also found that I am getting a lot more “looks” (not stares, really, as the people here look away as soon as I make eye contact) and people know I am not from round these parts (although they may still think that I am Hindustani).

There is a significant history of Maharajas (royalty) and Maharanas (warriors) throughout Rajasthan and a lot of the men here have their ears pierced (both lobes) and wear ceremonial turbans (though they are not Sikh). Also, most people have the name “Singh” either as their middle name or as part of their surname. I always though “Singh” was a Sikh name but it turns out it is not. I will have to find out more about this from one of my tour guides either here in Jodphur or in Jaipur.

In ten minutes I am being picked up by my driver and guide to do a city tour of Jodphur and then tomorrow I am visiting a local village (Bishnoi village) where I am told I will be offered Opium (a village tradition/ritual) but, of course I asked if I would offend anyone by not consuming the Opium. Turns out the Opium is only offered ritually to visitors but no one will be offended if I say no (and the locals expect most foreigners to decline). Phew….

Tomorrow late afternoon I am heading to a desert town where I will get to take a sunset camel ride…wahoo! This place (Osiyan) was not in the original tour schedule but I was told about this place by my driver and have decided to add it on rather than taking a camel ride in Jodphur. Then I’m off to Jaipur on the overnight train.

Wendy – all the stuff I borrowed from you is coming in handy – thanks! Especially for the various travel pouches and such.

Dad – happy belated birthday.

Mehb – I get in on Tuesday, Sept. 20 – you said “see ya on the 21st” but you’ll see me on the 20th – make sure mom and dad know that I arrive on the 20th – I don’t want to be stuck at the airport!!!!!

Shauna – thanks for the updates about Ethan…I miss him tons so I really appreciated your update…please give him lots of hugs and kisses for me…I can’t wait to see him!!! (And everyone else, too…but honestly mostly my sweet nephew!)

Narmin

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Taj Mahal: Indeed a World Wonder – India message #4 – Agra/Gwalior/Udaipor

Hello all…

Internet access is harder to come by when you leave India’s capital…well the Internet is available but often the connection is down.

Juli and I left Delhi on Friday late afternoon to head to Agra and Gwalior. We arranged a tour through the travel agency used by the Canadian High Commission and got an excellent package for a weekend in Agra/Gwalior. As most of you know, Agra is home of the Taj Mahal, the
memorial built by India’s fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan for his second wife, Mumtaz. There’s an Indian saying: “As long as the world exists, so too will the Taj Mahal”. From what our Taj guide shared with us about the crazy weather in Agra, the natural disasters in
India, etc etc I think the saying is probably true. The Taj is 350 years old and is as beautiful now as it probably was when it was first built. According to current mathematical and architectural knowledge and experts, the Taj is a model of perfection – not a single flaw has been found with its design or structural integrity. Juli and I probably took about 150 pictures of the Taj between the two of us and we’ll be uploading all of our photos once we return to Canada. So, stay tuned to witness the astonishing beauty of this famous building.

The drive to Agra from Delhi took much longer than we had expected. I thought rush hour traffic was bad in Canada (Toronto, Vancouver; Edmonton when I want to leave the city for the weekend) but I will probably think twice before complaining about traffic “at home” in the future. It must’ve taken us two hours just to leave Delhi. But we got
some terrific pictures of cows, bulls and traffic en route. I also got to finally experience a portion of the monsoon season…it was absolutely pouring for at least one hour on the way out of Delhi…of course I tried to capture the event but despite some good shots of
bicycles and people in at least 12 inches of water, I think the monsoon is something you have to see to believe. Since Friday, the rain has followed me pretty much everywhere with at least one major storm most evenings. Thankfully the skies haven’t opened up until the end of my sightseeing each day.

Agra is full of cows, camels, donkeys and other animals. It is also full of people who will try to sell just about anything. Juli and I had been warned to not buy anything from anyone in Agra but we broke the cardinal rule and bought some postcards and souvenirs from some kids. This resulted in us being followed around as we went about our sightseeing. Which, in the end, made Agra a lot more fun for me – I loved seeing the look of shock on kids faces as I turned to them and started addressing them in Hindi. Of course, my Hindi is full of errors so every so often some of the older kids and I would have a good laugh over our error-riddled attempts to speak one another’s languages. I think the kids have a fairly good command of English in most cases. I also brought tons of Canada flag pins with me (big
surprise) and they were a huge hit with the kids. One teenage boy (likely not more than 16) cited love and romance as the reason for offering his assistance in distributing the pins for me. Wahoo, I come to India and get hit on by a 16-year-old. I’m glad I had a chance to
interact with all these kids (and turning down the teen) because by this point we had been approached by so many young kids, many who weren’t well dressed but had the sweetest smiles and such hope in their eyes as they approached us to sell us local crafts and toys. And I had been feeling pretty bad for the kids and guilty about the
poverty in India (yes, Janet, I had a “Cuba” experience in India, too!) and the positive interaction (and finally buying some stuff from the kids) was just what I needed to get over the guilt I was feeling.

I ended up getting too much sun while in Agra and was in bed pretty much right after we returned to the hotel post-sightseeing. I even wore my hat and drank tons of water all day but I seem to get heat stroke every time I’m in a hot climate; heck it even happened in Drumheller last summer. Juli ended up going to dinner on her own and by the time she came back to the hotel, I’d only just ordered dinner and gotten out of bed. Yay me!

Next day we took a train to Gwalior, a town of 900,000 that Juli read about in a travel magazine. I am so glad she came across this gem of a place. The sightseeing was fine, although I think I’ve seen enough forts now. However, a bonus was that we were able to see some of the Jain carvings, which are simply magnificent – lots of pictures to
share when I return. Also, we visited the grave of Tansen, the founder of Indian classical music. But the highlight of this trip was the kids playing in the park area around the monument. We met tons of little kids, gave out some more Canada pins and then ventured around the markets and side streets of Gwalior. This is where Juli (and I by association) literally stopped traffic as many of the locals had never seen a “non-brown” person before. We also walked alongside many cows and donkeys (and I detoured around what I believe to be rabid dogs) and Juli got some awesome pictures. My lovely, expensive digital camera is only good for about 100 pictures a day before the battery needs to be recharged (note to self to buy extra battery for future trips; however, thankfully my charger/adapter has worked everywhere thus far…knock on wood).

So, for those of you planning to come to India make sure to put Gwalior on your list…it is not be missed – simply for the up close interaction with the locals and the fact that it is not yet a well known tourist location.

After saying good bye to the locals, we were on our way to the train station to head back to Delhi. Got in at midnight and then I was up at 3:45 a.m. to head to airport for an early flight to Udaipor which is where I am right now…sitting in an Internet cafe two blocks from my
hotel. My hotel is right next door to a cinema (movie theatre) but the only evening show is at 9:00 and I’ve been told that it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for me to be at the cinema at that time…so I will postpone my opportunity to watch Bollywood in Bollywood.

Udaipor is a beautiful town of only 500,000 people. The town is surrounded by mountains and has two large lakes that have a couple of small islands – two of which have hotels built on them. (Kirstie – this town reminds me a bit of New Zealand! Even has tons of migratory birds, including flamingos and pelicans and tons of flowers and trees that aren’t found elsewhere in India.) So far, Udaipor is my favourite
city – for its size and scenic beauty. It is also much cooler here than the other places I’ve visited so far (temperature). The locals are very nice but quite shy around tourists, which is a bit strange
considering tourism is one of the main industries. But my tour guide told me that the people here are naturally shy and also that people tend to make Udaipor their home for generations and generations so it is a pretty close-knit community. That was pretty obvious as I watched people greet each other warmly and affectionately throughout the day.

Udaipor wasn’t originally on my visit list but the Embassy travel agent suggested it and I’m certainly glad he did.

Tomorrow, I head to Jodphur by car via the scenic route with stops at Jain temples along the way. So far what I have scene of Jain architecture has impressed me so I am looking forward to the temples. I also hope this cooler weather follows me! I am literally melting here. I am told that Jodphur has many camels so I am also planning to
take a camel ride tomorrow…wahoo! That and I hope to finally watch a
Bollywood flick.

Will try and write again soon.

Narmin

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Lessons in History – Delhi – Message #3 – Thursday, September 8, 2005

Hey all,

 

I spent all day today touring around New and Old Delhi…in the hot sun. It probably hit 40 degrees today. The temperature itself would be fine were it not for the humidity. Although I have been wearing sunscreen I think my left ear is slightly burned (I forgot to wear my hat earlier in the day…won’t make that mistake again!) Hey but on the bright side, Deep Woods Off works on Indian mosquitos. I haven’t been bit yet. I have heard the skeeters are the worst in Agra so we’ll see how DWO fares there.

 

Three other people were on my tour, one person was from West Africa and spoke only a little bit of English so I spent a fair bit of time talking to him in French and talking to our English-speaking tour guide in Hindi (once he figured out I understood him and the driver he insisted I practice my spoken Hindi…yup, this is my life) and now I’m having trouble writing in English.

 

Okay so the tour…that will help me focus my writing…we started the day at the Mirla Mandir (Hindu Temple)¬†and our tour guide provided a lot of information about Hinduism. Most of the historical stuff and the info about the idols was interesting but at one point I think I did an eye-roll as I thought, “Why is he giving a sermon?” when he started encouraging the tour members¬†to try doing¬†“pooja” (worship) and see if after a year of practising we feel enlightened. I didn’t mention at that time that I was Muslim, which in hindsight was a good thing…hang tight.

 

Our next stop was the Presidential Campus, the President’s House, and the Parliament buildings. Wow are those three areas well-guarded. I was in Cuba in February and Castro’s residence is not known/advertised and I expected the same thing in India (although I can’t really explain this misconception).

 

Next stop was India Gate followed by Humayan’s Tomb. Humayan was the second Mogul Emperor of India and is the great grandfather of Shah Jahan (the 5th Mogul Emperor and the builder of the Taj Mahal). We had to pay 250 rupees for this UNESCO World Heritage site (although the price is only 10 rupees for locals and I was told that if I wasn’t on the tour I’d have been given the local rate…damn!) The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (part of Aga Khan Development Network and parent organization for Aga Khan Foundation Canada, which sponsors the World Partnership Walk) sponsored a two-year restoration restoration of Humayan’s Tomb and surrounding buildings. Made me proud to be a volunteer with an organization that has such far-reaching impact.

 

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Okay, final stop in New Delhi was Qutab Minar which was built in 1190 AD by the first Muslim ruler of India. This is where our guide got a bit nasty and I was glad I hadn’t volunteered the fact that I was Muslim earlier in the tour. Basically, the first Muslim leader “destroyed” 27 mandirs to build Qutab Minar, India’s first mosque. The pillars the mosque is made from used to depict carvings of the Hindu gods and were part of the 27 mandirs. When the pillars were used for the mosque, the carvings were defaced so that they Hindu gods were no longer identifiable. Rather than just provide this information in a neutral manner, he¬†became quite agitated and was fairly critical (I see his point, I honestly do, but man did I feel uncomfortable!) Turns out the West African is also Muslim but since he spoke only a little bit of English, he didn’t really get why the guide was upset. I didn’t bother explaining…can you imagine! Qutab Minar is also a World Heritage site.

 

Lunch at Janpaath hotel, South Indian vegetarian cuisine. I had a thali (basically a tray with small amounts of a few vegetable curries, chutneys, chapatis and rice). Way too much food and spiced just right…wahoo – way better than last night.

 

After lunch we tackled Old Delhi. I say tackled because Old Delhi is way more crowded, dusty and kinda dirty in comparison to New Delhi. I think I sneezed every time I was in a confined area where the dust had a chance to gather. Way more stray dogs in Old Delhi, too. They mostly stay away which is a good thing since I skipped the rabies vaccine. First stop was the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. The tour guide, still harbouring¬†a bit of a grudge against the Muslims for Qutab Minar suggested we skip the mosque since it costs 150 rupees to photograph the inside of the mosque. (Does that sound like a good reason considering we had just spent 250 rupees on the two World Heritage sites and another 200 rupees on lunch? Yeah, I didn’t think so either!) So we went to Jama Masjid and we didn’t bring our cameras (I don’t think mosques should be photographed from the inside, anyway…. I didn’t take pictures inside the mandir either, so not being a hypocrite here!) Anyway, the guy from West Africa ended up doing a mini-namaz (prayers) while we were there and he was quite the hit – not that many Africans in India¬†and he was probably 6 and a 1/2 feet tall so quite hard to miss. It was neat to observe him going through the prayers because his sect of Islam has some practises that are different than what is typical for me. Jama Masjid was built by Shah Jahan (5th Mogul Emperor, builder of Taj Mahal).

 

Shah Jahan also built Red Fort, which was our next stop. It was the physical location from which India was ruled for many years. Today, India Day celebrations are organized Red Fort, including the address from the President. Also the Indian Flag is unfurled each day at sunrise from this location. By the time we got to the Fort, I think every person on the tour was too hot to really enjoy it and we were all looking for shaded areas for refuge.

 

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Final stop of the day was at the Gandhi Memorial, which is where Gandhi was cremated in 1948 and that was the highlight of the day. Partly because Gandhi is such a powerful person and holds¬†a significant place in Indian history (his face still appears on the currency) and his family and his wife’s family were prominent figures in India’s history, too.

 

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But, the other reason this was the best stop of the day was because there were about 50 school children at the memorial and their faces lit up when the saw Killy (West African) and David (“white guy” from Minneapolis). They rushed up to both to touch them and say hello. It was like a school lesson when a few girls came up and said “Hello sir, how are you?” and David said “Good. How are you?” and they all replied “I am fine.” in clear, well-enunciated English. Guess ya had to be there. I had about 30 Canadian pins on me and gave them to David (more than 6-feet tall so saved me from being mobbed by the kids) and he handed them out to the great delight of all the kids. They did end up mobbing all three of us and I almost saw my life flash by…but they were mobbing us to get our help with pinning the flag on. Then they all asked if the pin meant they¬†could come to Canada (sorry Juli…I take full responsibility for misleading the kids!)

 

One last thing that I keep forgetting to mention…lots of trees in Delhi (old and new) and I don’t know why I didn’t expect this (Bollywood movies always have a forest scene and lots of rolling hills, parks, etc) and given the regular monsoon season, I should have concluded that Delhi would be lush and green. But it still surprises me when I stop to notice just how many trees surround me. It’s nice.

 

Alright, time for supper now…and then I’m not sure what…although at this point, staying in an air-conditioned building sounds pretty pleasant to me!

Narmin

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Getting Back to the Roots I’ve Always Disregarded – Delhi – Message #2 – Wednesday, September 7, 2005

And my trip to India continues…I have really enjoyed re-visiting my travel destinations through my old travel babbles. Giving me a serious case of the travel bug, though. Onward.

Okay yeah, two messages in one day…not likely that this will happen often so enjoy it. Juli just showed me the “members’ lounge” for those staying in upgraded rooms. The lounge has free Internet access…wahoo. I best enjoy it in the next 36 hours because after that I am not sure how often I’ll have (reasonably priced) access. Today I paid A LOT for a half-hour of e-time. Oh well…making up for it now.

Also, my travel messages tend to also serve as my travel journal…so feel free to just skim/skip through whatever doesn’t grab ya.

Juli and I had dinner at the hotel and then headed to Delhi Hatt, probably the most popular market in New Delhi. First dinner…hmm, I told many of you that I was looking forward to eating Indian food in India. I may have to take that back. My supper was mutter paneer (cottage cheese and peas) with naan (bread) and raiti (yogurt) and I found the food even too spicy for me! I don’t like mixing yogurt with my spiced food to take away the edge but tonight that was the only option. You know it’s spicy if I’m complaining. (My mouth is still burning!)

Delhi Hatt was pretty cool. There’s an admission fee of 15 rupees which is charged to ensure hassle-free shopping. And by this I mean beggars don’t come into the market and “bother” shoppers. Because I wasn’t really being bothered for most of today, I don’t know how much of a difference I would have seen. However, Juli with her blonde hair, blue eyes, and very fair skin seemed to attract a lot of attention. Juli was stopped by practically every vendor, unless he (or very infrequently, she) happened to notice that I was with Juli, in which case then the vendor pretty much left us to our own devices.

Mom and Dad, you’ll be proud to know that my years of watching Bollywood paid off and I was talking to vendors in Hindi and I even practiced bargaining …what a strange feeling and so not what I would ever do at an Indian store in Canada. I had to constantly ask Juli what I should suggest as a price as I bargained but by the end of our time in the market, I was getting more comfortable with it. As has been my experience with my error-riddled French in Quebec, Indian people also appreciate the effort English-speakers make in terms of communicating in Hindi.

Something else that was pretty neat…we took a taxi to Delhi Hatt and our driver said he’d wait until we were done and then return us to our hotel. I thought it was weird that he didn’t make us pay the one-way fare right away, but he didn’t. I found that to be oddly comforting that in a city of 13 million — and with Juli and I being foreigners — that the taxi driver trusted us ( i.e. didn’t make us clear our tab) and waited around for us (1.5 hours!) So, we gave him a pretty good tip to thank him. What a nice experience.

Many people have told me that India is the country that you immediately love or hate. I am finding that so far, less than 24-hours into my stay here, that India (or maybe Delhi) is full of experiences that will surprise in good ways (like our taxi driver trusting a couple of foreigners) or bad ways (did I mention how scary it is to cross the road?)

Oh yeah, lotsa police and military officers wandering around everywhere. Thank god I work with people who carry guns on a regular basis so I am now somewhat less uncomfortable about the presence of armed personnel. But it is still a bit odd to see rifles everywhere. Even the traffic cops are armed. Then again, driving here is pretty crazy (even as a passenger it is quite scary) and I’ve already whined about pedestrian safety (lack thereof) so maybe it is necessary for traffic cops to be armed. I hope I don’t witness anyone using their weapons. After I sent out my first e-mail I headed back out on my way to walk over to the India Gate (probably only a half hour walk from the hotel) but along the way some cops decided to shut down one road leading to a traffic circle (aka roundabout) and one of the locals told me that pedestrian traffic was also not allowed. So, I had to do a bit of a detour and thankfully I did not get lost (everyone knows my poor sense of direction)…my MEC compass is coming in quite handy. There’s a roundabout just outside our hotel and our room looks down at a park built into that traffic circle. On my way back from my unsuccessful journey to the India Gate, I decided to head into that park and check it out. This morning there were several people having picnics, praying, napping, etc in this park. However, when I finally got into the park (which was a huge ordeal because there are hardly any breaks in traffic so that pedestrians can cross multiple lanes to access the park…) it was a grave disappointment. The park I thought was nice from my hotel room, was actually not that well-kept and there were stray dogs lying in the sun along with a lot of men and only a few women.

Which is another thing…most of the shops and businesses are run by men, the street vendors are mostly men, and it’s mostly men who wander the streets. I guess the women must be at home, rearing the children, preparing the food, cleaning, tending to the elderly, etc, etc. You should be able to hear my frustration as you read this. I did see some women shopping in the market earlier today…probably buying cloth to make clothing for the children or buying vegetables for tonight’s supper. ūüė¶

Tomorrow I am taking a tour of New and Old Delhi. I have decided that I am not brave enough to try visiting Old Delhi by myself and also the tour I’m booked into is led by an English-speaking guide. Which isn’t really as necessary now that I am finding I understand the Hindi spoken by most people here. I was expecting it to be quite a bit different from the Bollywood version and there are phrases or words I only understand in gist but so far I am getting on fine. Juli and I have taken to conversing in French when we discuss prices and such so every so often I get my languages mixed up and end up thinking in Spanish. That’s the crappy part of knowing enough to get by in three or four langauges and trying to limit my use of English. By the time I get home I’m sure I’ll need remedial training in English…I am already catching myself speaking in broken English (“No, we just bought” when someone asks if we would like to look at an item we just purchased elsewhere or “How much that?” Maybe I’ll be talking Yoda-like soon…”Bought that, I just did.”)

Okay, on that delirious note, I will sign off. Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying living vicariously…

Narmin

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