Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Golden Triangle

On Monday the 27th we left Delhi to travel to Agra. We left early (7 am) to avoid some of the major traffic and an hour and a half into the trip our driver stopped for a quick rest. We figured we would be back on the road within 10 minutes, but our driver informed us he couldn't feel the right side of his body. With slurred speech, his symptoms were those of a stroke. He looked freaked out and we had to wait almost 2 hours for a new driver and someone to take our driver to the hospital.

To make up for lost time our new driver really worked hard to get us o Agra in decent time. We had to stop several times to pay tolls and such and on one occasion there was a man sitting in the divide between the four lanes of traffic with a sewing machine mending some pants. Seemed like an odd place to do mending.

Also along the road we started to see the first camels of the trip. Looking at all the animals helped make the long car trip go faster.

Once in Agra we stopped at the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (grandfather to Shah Jahan the builder of the Taj Mahal).

The highlight of the afternoon was the stop to the Taj Mahal. Pictures can't show how beautiful the building is. All the headache with the passport and getting sick were all worth it to see the Taj.

The Taj is inlaid with precious stones and other carvings which were spectacular upclose. I will post my good shots when I return.

After visiting the Taj we went to a show room to see how the artisans do all the inlay work. We all purchased small items which show the craftsmanship.

On Tuesday we visited the Baby Taj. We arrived so early that we were the first people there. After the visit we went to the Agra fort. It was massive and it had some beautiful buildings. Plus, it has great views of the Taj.

After the fort we headed to Jaipur. A few hours into the trip the windshield wipers stopped working. After we got lunch the a/c also stopped. It was a warm, wet afternoon getting to Jaipur.

Wednesday was spent touring the major sites in Jaipur. We visited the Wind Palace, Water Palace, City Palace and the highlight was the Pink Fort. To reach the fort we rode elephants. It was a little rocky, but he kids and I definitely thought it was a fantastic ride.

Thursday we drive the six hours back to Delhi and we catch our late evening flights. My return flight is a total of 29 travel hours. I will be glad to he back in the States and all the comforts of home.

I will say that India has definitely been incredible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

End of Delhi

On Friday the 25th and Saturday the 26th I was still staying at the Jackson's house awaiting my brother and his family. Friday, Mrs. Jackson took me to lunch with her friend and daughter to Chile's. The restaurant food tasted very similar to home. After lunch they took me to a couple of stores where I was able to pick up some souvenirs.

Saturday, I went with the two Jackson boys and the family cook to Mother Teresa's Orphanage for disabled and handicapped children. Apparently the three of them go every week to play with the children and give them a little treat.

There was approximately 100 children in the home with more than half of them suffering from MS. The orphanage is run by some nuns and they have a small army of volunteers and workers. Seeing the poor conditions and the cramped quarters was heartbreaking. The children were so young and helpless that I wanted to cry for them. From what I could tell the children were well cared for, but nothing can replace the loss of a family to love a young child. I spoke with the head nun and she was gracious and kind.

Speaking with the Jackson clan I learned that there are more than 100 orphanages in Delhi. They were surprised to learn that I had never visited an orphanage before.

In the afternoon I rode in my first auto rickshaw with Anjuli the Jackson's daughter. She took me to the neighborhood bazaar that she does all her discount shopping. It was fun to ride in the auto and Anjuli taught me a few things about barteering.

We then went for pedicures at a salon around the corner from their house where the price was only $6. I wish I could get a pedicure that cheap in the States.

At 7:00pm I finally met up with Steve and his family and I was happy to be reunited. The Jackson's were so hospitable, but after 4 days I felt I had worn out my welcome.

Sunday we attempted to go to church, but we were not able to find the building. After lunching at McDonalds we took a short tour of Delhi, seeing the India Gate, parliament, and this mosque built in the 11th century.

I was sorry to leave Delhi. It has been the most organized, and "normal" Indian city we've visited. However, our next stop is Agra and the Taj Mahal.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week two - India

Monday we got up early to catch our flight to the southern part of India and one of the two things I was most looking forward to on this vacation - the house boat cruise down the back waters. At the Bangalore Airport I discovered to my shock and horror that my money belt was missing from my purse. I wasn't worried about the extra $46 in there, but it was where I kept my passport. After dumping everything put of my purse and frantically routing through my luggage, I still couldn't find it. I was still able to board the flight, but I knew I was in a world of new obstacles.

After landing in Cochin and checking into the hotel, Steve jumped on the computer to find out what I needed to do to get a new passport and visa.

Step one. File a police report. Knowing that my afternoon was shot-Steve and his family took the scheduled tour of the harbor and was some ethnic dancing while I got schooled in Indian bureaucracy.

A representative from the tour company accompanied me which proved to be a big help. The police station was out of a bad movie. I didn't see a single computer, the walls were dirty, bugs crawling everywhere and no a/c. Within moments I was drenched in sweat. There was approximately 15 officers in a four room building and it appeared that no real work seemed to ever get done besides sweating and talking. A few carried guns, but with no technology to be seen I can't imagine difficult crimes are ever solved there.

After listening to my guide share what happened to me, they gave me a sheet of paper to write my statement. According to the US Embassy I only needed a statement from the police that I had reported the missing passport. Because I actually lost the passport somewhere else, the police thought I was an idiot when I told them I couldn't find my passport after landing in Cochin. I couldn't tell them I lost it before my arrival, or they would not have helped me.

What I thought was a relatively minor procedure (a police letter), turned into a mini-drama. The police informed me that because I has listed the passport as lost I needed to take out an advertisement in the local newspaper to see if anyone would return it before they would give my any documents.

They also said it would take until the 23rd. Three days I was expected to wait and to make matters worse we were only spending one night in Cochin. I left the office drenched and dejected.

The newspaper office turned out to be almost as depressing. We arrived there by 6 pm and so it wound up costing four times the normal rate to place the ad. My guide thought that if we got it in the paper by the next day he might be to convince the police to give me the report early. The ad cost me approx $80 and we were there about an hour. Their offices had the same worn down feeling as the police station. They did have computers but they were at least 15 years old.

By the time I returned to the hotel that night, empty handed and poorer, I was feeling very low. It was looking like I would have to miss most of the vacation.

During the evening Steve got busy doing research and sending out emails to help solve this problem. A few middle of the night phone calls to the States and we had a plan.

I would return to Delhi on Tuesday with or without a police report and start working on everything up there until I had what I needed to return home. I said goodbye to Steve and headed to the police station with newspaper in hand, hopeful we would get the report.

When I got there they gave me the run around - they couldn't give me a report it was an active investigation. What I really understood was they wanted to cover their butts. My guide explained it was because I was an American and if I'd been Indian it wouldn't have been a big deal. I begged him to explain that I just needed a memo stating I told them I lost it. After an hour of sitting around sweating I got the memo, only my entire name was spelled wrong. After having to correct the memo three times I finally got to leave, however just as the police Inspector informed me that it probably wouldn't do me any good.

On the way to the airport we stopped and got some passport photos and then I caught a flight to get back to Delhi.

In adversity it becomes very easy to see the Lord's hand. Traveling to Delhi five days early I worried about accommodations and money. Stephanie's mom gave me the number to the mission president's wife in New Delhi and she was so sweet and offered to let me stay in her guest room.

When I arrived late that evening in Delhi I was warmly welcomed into their very nice home where I have been living for the past three days.

Wednesday I arrived at the Embassy thirty minutes before my appointment and I was able to get my replacement passport in 2 1/2 hours. They were very nice and I was pleasantly surprised to get it so quickly. While there I met a couple of American women who live in Delhi and they had some great tips for navigating the office where I needed my replacement visa.

My driver had to park more than a kilometer from the embassy so the brief walk had me drenched in sweat. The drive to the Foreign Registration Office was short, but more walking was involved and I looked like a drowned rat by the time I figured out where the correct office was.

I got my number 64 (they were on 34) and patiently waited my turn. After I had been there thirty minutes this older gentleman wanted to speak to me in the hallway. He didn't have anything to say, but since I was standing I decideded to ask the info desk if there was any forms I needed to fill out while I waited.

Much to my surprise he gave me a form and immediately pointed me to a counter. Within twenty minutes I had all my forms filled out, checked, and informed that all I needed to do was return on Thursday.

The rest of that day and Thursday I just relaxed and read. My driver showed up an hour early and so I decided to take a chance and see if I could get the visa early.

I could have laughed aloud when I returned and saw their processing of the visa. My original paperwork appeared as though it has not moved from the day before. All I did was took it back to the original counter, it was stamped, they stamped my passport, and I left. I don't know why they needed to let the paperwork sit for a day, but it certainly feels like the Indian thing to do.

The process of getting all my documents in Delhi has been very easy, which is a huge relief. I now have to wait two more days before Steve and his family fly up to finish this final stage in the vacation.

The Jackson's have been fantastic and it has been a pleasant stay at their house. The instant connection with strangers is easy because of The Church.

Next week I will post the final installment of my trip. Although I missed the house boat and swimming in the Indian Ocean, I will still get to see the Taj Mahal which is the one thing I most wanted to see.

Here is to hoping that I will not have anymore travel roadblocks the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mysore Palace

Gorgeous detail inside.

Mysore Palace

Inside courtyard if Mysore Palace

Week one - India

Wednesday the 15th we headed to Xime, which is the local college where Steve has been teaching his class this summer. Once there we loaded ourselves onto two buses for our trip to Mysore and Kabini.

The trip was only 100 km, but it took us close to 5 hours to reach our hotel. Part of the problem was a pit stop at a coffee shop. With 50 students ordering food and Indian inefficiency, it took forever.

The hotel was lovely and that evening we ate a catered BBQ near the pool with the students and the other professors.

Thursday we visited Chumundi Hill. There is a famous temple at the top dedicated to the wife of Shiva. Walking to the temple we saw lots of monkeys. It was pretty funny because we saw one that looked like it was going to ride a motorcycle. The kids thought it was especially hilarious.

Steve, Seth, Rand and I were the only ones who decided to enter the temple. We dropped off our flower offerings and dots were placed on our foreheads. The boys immediately wiped the dot off which left a nice streak of color along their foreheads.

In the afternoon we visited the Majaraja's Palace. Built around the turn of the century it was a lovely building with stunning artwork and handcarvings. I wasn't able to take my big camera with me, but I will post a couple of my pictures I took with my itouch.

That evening I started to feel sick, which as of today (the 23rd) I still don't feel back to normal.

On Friday, we drove to the tiny village of Kabini to stay at the luxurious resort Orange County. The resort was very remote and the tiny roads that took us there were treacherous. The final 20 km took more than an hour to drive. I must give credit to the outstanding bus driver.

The resort was spectacular. Beautiful views of a river and national park. All the accommodations were huts. We had two pool huts. I will add pictures of the resort to this post when I return to show you how incredible it was.

Friday we relaxed and Saturday I watched Seth while the rest of Steve's family could go on their safari. In the afternoon I went and I'm glad I got the later time, because the whole day was rainy, but in the afternoon it was very mild rain. Our group saw wild monkeys, deer, Samba, variety of rare birds, wild boar, wild dogs, peacocks, elephants and the very rare and very lucky black cheetah. The only other animal I would have like to have seen was the tiger.

Sunday we returned to Bangalore. We spent the night at Stephanie's parents house.

The first week was very interesting, I really enjoyed Mysore and Kabini was stunning. I only wish that I had felt better to enjoy it. By the end of the week I was hardly consuming any food which also made me feel very weak.

Week two has been even more of a challenge, but I will tell you all about it in a different post.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bangalore

After a peaceful night in the Radisson, I took a 2 1/2 hour flight from Delhi to Bangalore. Steve's driver met me at the airport and due to the atrocious Indian traffic a 60 kilometer drive turned into a 2 1/2 hour drive.

I must confess that India is almost exactly what I thought it would be. Traffic is crazy. It appears that no one follows any traffic laws. Car horns are extensions of the driving experience. Steve commented that the driving was the ultimate game of chicken-who's going to back off first.

Monday afternoon was spent at Stephanie's parents apartment (they are the mission president of the Southern India mission) and chatting.

Tuesday we got up and did a little shopping, ate lunch at McDonalds. The afternoon was spent at the Science and Engineering Museum.

While at the museum there were tons of people who wanted our picture. The people were especially interested in Seth. I have never seen a child touched so many times. For a three-year-old he handled the attention well.

The jet-lag has not been to unbearable, but the beds in Steven's house are the hardest surfaces I have ever slept on.

Today we leave for Mysore and our jungle safari. Here is to hoping the beds will be softer at the hotel.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Arrival

At the airport in Saturday I decides to splurge and pay the extra $150 for the emergency row seats. I flew Continental and this was a wise choice because their seats were small and having the extra leg room was a dream. The flight from Vegas to Newark was cramped, and with a four hour lay-a-way I had plenty of time to meander and work out the cramps before the marathon flight.

The flight from Newark to Delhi was long, but with all the movies I watched, it went by faster than I expected. I ended up seeing 5 movies and three television shows. I normally have a difficult time sleeping on flights and this was no exception. I did get a couple of restful hours on the 14 hour flight.

Upon arrival I was met at the Delhi airport by a driver for the hotel and was quickly checked in.

Immediately I noticed differences, the driver and the car were checked by guards and scanned when we arrived. Before entering the hotel my bags were scanned as well as myself.

Before catching up with my brother and his family tomorrow I opted to spend the night, get well rested so that when I see them I wont be wasted. My splurge of the trip is tonight in the Radisson Blu Hotel. It is stunning and they upgraded my room to business class and it is awesome! I will attempt to attach pictures, but it is the nicest room I've ever stayed in. I almost don't want to go to sleep so that I can enjoy the room as long as possible.

Before I call it a night I will jump in the gigantic tub to relax. On second thought, after 15 minutes of trying to figure out how to close the drain, I opted for a shower. The rain head feature was awesome.

Oh the adventure has definitely begun!

Sent from my iPod

Bathroom

My awesome hotel room

First glance.

Welcome to India