Monday, January 26, 2015

A red head, a blonde, and brunette go for a walk in Delhi......

Their names are Holly ( England ), Lucille ( France ), and Victoria ( Canada )....
There's no punchline.  That's just what happened. 

I spent my last day in Delhi exploring some old ruins of a settlement and the Qutub Minar site. Besides the Qutub Minar ( tallest brick minaret in India ), the site includes numerous ancient mosques, tombs and a 1600 year old iron pillar that hasn't rusted.

I had planned to have more time to explore this area but we were side tracked by other ruins that were less crowded and  accessible along our walk.  I strolled through the ruins of an old settlement across from the Kamila-Jamila mosque. I saw an ancient swimming pool from the Lodhi Empire. All these things were just on our way,  in a park,  where families go to have a picnic and play cricket.

And that brings me to the people.  

The park was full with families and friend eating food and playing games,  mostly cricket.  Holly have us a basic rundown of hope cricket is played while we watched a match. I think I kind of understand it now.
Kind of.

A little bit.


And we met some people. 

A group of young girls came up to us. The one girl started asking us questions in English.  You could tell she was very excited to be able to speak English to us and her English was quite good,  considering.  I got the feeling that she would change the world someday,  or at least her country.

Of course,  photos were taken. Photos are always taken. 

Speaking of photos,  I got mobbed a couple times by groups of people,  mostly women and girls,  wanting photos of me and of me with them.  I got asked for my autograph once,  but declined because  I'M NOT FAMOUS! This must be what a celebrity feels like everywhere they go.  I happily obliged and made a point of smiling when I caught random people trying to sneak photos of me.

This isn't the first time similar has happened.  The first time was in Pahalgam after riding a pony to the to of the mountain.  A couple young men chatted with me and then asked for photos.

The second time was when Holly and I visited Jantar Mantar. We were surrounded by a group of young people who took every combination of photos with us they could find. 

And it happened three times yesterday in Delhi at the Archeological sights.

And it's not just one photo they want.  They take every conceivable version of the photo they can.  Switching members of their group in and out.

It's a bewildering experience. 

I met a 37 year old, 1800 kg lady this morning,  but I'll talk about her tomorrow.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The people!!!!

The people!



They're everywhere! It never stops!

Welcome to New Delhi. Truly a city that never sleeps. And I mean never! Vegas has got nothing on this place.

My hostel sits on a service road beside a fairly busy main road. The honking never stops.
My hotel address. Makes perfect sense.

Ever. Never stops.

You get used to it after a bit but it also makes me miss my boring, fairly quiet street in Edmonton. And I live downtown Edmonton, in the ghetto, where there's a fight outside on a weekly basis and the police re no strangers. That should tell you something.

I also miss my dog.

Moving on!!

New Delhi is an interesting experience and vastly different then Kashmir and even Agra. That's where The Taj Mahal is located, remember? That's ok, I barely remember it as well.

Went for a walk along Chandni Chowk, yesterdaym a very old and famous market here. And there were people! Everywhere! Crushing you!
Chandni Chowk during a quiet moment.....

This guy, he's spicey.
I visited the oldest spice market in Chandni Chowk. It was established in 1917, nearly 100 years old and it's quite famous. Bought some spices, as that's what one does at a spice market. Mmmm, spices. The man helping me showed me some photos of famous people who had gone there, including Dan Brown. ( The novelist....DaVinci Code.... ). I grabbed some delicious street food and decided I needed to get out of there. There was a small window of time that I could handle the crush of people until I needed to go, NOW!

Then, I took the metro. Even more of a crush of people. It never ends!!!!

Today I made a new friend, Holly from England. Holly and I went on adventures together, including buying saris and spending more money then we should. We saw a few monuments and spent a bit of time in the Sikh temple, Bangla Sahib. I have a facination with religions and religious rituals. I sat through a Sikh prayer, along with chanting and drums

The chanting and the carpeted floors always seem to bring an instant calm to me, something I needed after a few busy, people filled days. I sat and I closed my eyes and allowed the chanting and the noise to quiet my mind.

Then there were drums!!! Loud, booming drums which punctuated parts of what the Guru was chanting and saying. It loved every moment of it and would have stayed for hours had I not been with others. The prayers last all day, beginning at 4 am and going until 11 pm. Each Guru takes a 2 hour 'shift' of praying and chanting. The gathered members chant along. I wish I could have known what was being said. I have decided to do some research on Sikhism.

Oh, and Sikh men are really quite attractive and bearded, always bearded. See a trend here????

Note to self: Being an atheist does not mean you can't enjoy religious rituals such as chanting.

Gooooold. Inside Bagla Sahib Temple.
This temple serves three meals a day to whomever would like or need it and there appear to be many in the area that need that.

We also met a random man in the metro who became a seudo guide for us during the day. I was waiting for the hammer to fall, for him to ask us to buy something. But he didn't. It was a wonderful day filled with wonderful people.

And a lot of walking.

And I'm tired.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quirky Kashmir ( or The Silliness of Srinagar )

Or whatever else you choose to call this. I'll probably come up with something really awesome in about 6 hours.

I just wanted to point out a few interesting, quirky or odd things that I noticed during my time in Kashmir. Do with them what you will. ( Which will probably be nothing. )

There's no perforation on the toilette paper ( if there is any TP at all. Good thing I brought some with me. Thanks for the tip, Ragnar. ) If there is no toilette paper, you use a spray nozel, like the one you might find on your sink to help you rinse off dishes. The water is always just above freezing. Just imagine that on your, well, you know what.

If you're an autobody technician or a welder you are called a Body Builder. ( No joke. )

There is a town just outside of Srinagar whose whole industry it seems is to make and sell cricket bats. Just cricket bats. For all of India.

Apparently the stuff in this truck really won't burn.
This shit is never going to go up in flames.

The prevalence of English signs and advertisements. They're every where and more common then the local language. ( This is a general India thing, not specific to Kashmir. )

It seems that everyone works at a convenience store that sells the same thing as the one next to it. But each store give you " GREAT DEALS!"

There are sidewalks. No one walks on them. Walking on the road is the preference.

Goats hang out on the roof. No one cares.

The Devil's spawn indeed.

The region is called Jammu and Kashmir. Everything is labeled J&K or JK. I can't stop thinking that it stand for just Kidding.

Kashmir is highly militarized. There are soldiers everywhere and security check points where they will actually check you vehicle. It's a very serious business, except for this one soldier who smiled at me multiple time while checking the vehicle I was in. He was super cute too!

Speaking of super cute, a good portion of the men in Kashmir and quite attractive and wonderfully bearded. Something about their jaw lines, nose and skin tone is really sexy.

I went through 7 ( no exaggeration ) security check points to get on my flight to fly out, the first being before even entering the airport. Each one involves either a electronic screen of your baggage or a manual check by a very serious soldier. One almost didn't let me take my combination lock with me. ITS A DAMNED LOCK! Funny enough, they only looked at my passport twice. They don't care who I am as long as I'm not bringing dangerous stuff with me.

There are lots of birds. Birds everywhere. Even in the airport.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm laying in bed ( on the same wonderfully old house boat I mentioned yesterday) and have just finished listening to the Imam chant the evening prayer.

Yes. Laying in my bed listening to the evening prayer.

No, the house boat in not floating in a mosque.

The thing I particularly love about Muslim countries and locales ( I say that like I visit them all the time ) is the prayers. The mosques, using speakers, broadcast the prayers for everyone to hear. It was one of the first things I remember about Istanbul and when I left, I missed it. I had forgotten about it until I arrived here. I have no idea what is being chanted and I am the complete opposite of a Muslim ( and of a Christian, and of a Jew, and of most religions you can think of ) but I just love these prayers and the fact they they are projected for all to hear. Every time I hear them I smile, and I will miss them again.

I saw a very interesting side of Kashmir today, the rural areas. And when I say rural, I mean people carrying bags of rice on the heads and sheep being tended by shepherds. I saw a couple guys plucking dead chickens on the side of the road.

This view. Those tiny houses is where I started.
No, I did not die although there were times I wondered if I was being taken out to the woods to be given as a wife to some stranger. Things just kept getting more and more rural but, funny enough, every one had a cell phone. Go figure. It really struck me at how rural these places were and how almost exactly the same each little village was. When the news shows pictures of villages is war town countries, that is exactly what these looked like. Come to think of it, Kashmir has a had a long history of wars. Click the link to read about it's facinating history.

I took a day trip out to Pahalgam, a small but popular tourist destination way up in the mountains and away from most civilization as I know it ( except for the cell phones ). I went specifically to ride a shaggy pony up the side of a mountain to see this beautiful clearing at the top and a stunning view of the Lidder Valley
Damn I make this pony and pahrin look good.

I'm not going to go into detail too much about this area because Wikipedia does is so much better, so here's the link if you're interested.

This is Geetin, ( I think that;s right ). He accidentally took a selfie.

I also had a guide on my trip up the mountain. That's how I got this wonderful picture of myself and the shaggy pony.

On the way up to Pahalgam, we stopped at the ancient Hindu Avantisvami Temple.It was built by King Avantivarman of Utpala between the years 853 and 883 A.D. This particular temple was dediated to the Hindu God Lord Vishnu. There another, nearly identical temple near by, built during the same time, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is composed of one main alter, dedicated to Lord Vishnu and four smaller alters dedicated to other, lesser gods.
Oh yeah! Old Stuff!

We all know how much I love ancient history!! ( Or maybe you don't know that. BUT IT DO! ) So, this was definitely a high light of the day.

Relief carving of Lord Vishnu himself.
Carvings of the nine planets. ( or so I'm told )

What I found really interesting was seeing the technology they were using at the time to build these structures. In this picture over here.
( Yes, right there, to the right! ) shows the groove and peg technology of the time. Truly a marvel when you think of what they were working with.

AAANNNDDD! I lost the inernet last night and that is why this is being posted in the morning.

I wanted to post more but I've got to get going. I have a few silly little things to tell you about.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Another day?

The last few days have been....Well.... less then ideal. After visiting Agra, where I was slapped in the face with a huge culture shock,  we arrived in Srinagar, Kashmir in northern India. 

I was slapped even harder. 

I thought I was being stared at in Agra, but here,  I initially felt like a freak show.

Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim state.  About 90% of the people here are devoutly Muslim,  the other 10% Hindu. This means women cover their heads.  As a non-muslim I arrived without my head covered. I was acutely aware of being the only Caucasian women on the flight into Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital, and I believe I am the only white women within an hour flight of here. 

I now know what it's like to be a visible minority and to be stared at because of that. It a feeling of both amusement and annoyance.

The staring I can deal with, it was the ignoring that I couldn't. 

Wait, did I just say I was being ignored as well as being stared at?  How is that possible?  Let me explain. 

I am traveling with my brother.  The people we have been interacting with have addressed questions and comments to only my brother. This includes the taxi driver,  hotel workers in Gulmarg ( small little town ) and the waiter who served my brother food first,  nearly taking the spoon out of my hand as I reached to serve myself. They've introduced themselves to only my brother as I stand there.

In Agra, this happened but on a less obvious scale.  Here in Kashmir, it's more pronounced. And it's a bit upsetting.

We traveled to a small skiing town called Gulmarg. I am almost certain I am the only white women many of the people here have ever seen. The hotel was very rustic.  Think log cabin with wood heat level of rustic with a bed that felt like a plank of wood ( which I had to share with my brother. Ewwww! )

I hated it and I couldn't get warm. very cold.

So, I decided to leave and head to New Delhi. My brother wants to ski so he's staying in Gulmarg. But that meant I had to spend a day in Srinagar, by myself,  before my flight left. That should be interesting.

And interesting it is.

Was the taxi guy and his friend flirting with me? ( The driver even sang one of his favourite songs ) Did the guys at the hotel ask to add me on Facebook?  ( Yes they did. ) Did that man at the check point say hello to me?  ( He sure did.  ) So what gives here?

I have a theory involving two parts:

First,  my brother is not around.

Second,  I covered my head.

It's like magic.  All I had to do was ditch my brother and cover my head. It was that easy.

I'm currently lying on a bed on a house boat located on Dal Lake in Srinagar. It's a hostel I booked for the night.  When I arrived,  I felt like I was being welcomed into a home. The manager and his father warmly greeted me,  serving me tea and cookies. Sitting on the floor,  we talked for a bit and they showed me to my room.  It's old but completely welcoming.

It has a wood burning stove for heat and this adorable little vanity and mirrors.

The manager not only arranged but accompanied me on a sight seeing tour. I spent too much money on a hand made Kashmir wool carpet and hand embroidered pashmina, but I consider it worth it. I learned how the carpets were made. The size I bought takes over a year to make with the larger ones taking up to 4 years.  Just for one carpet! I'll go into more detail on this later.

And guess what I decided to do? 

Stay another day!

I know,  crazy white girl in a Muslim state,  but Srinagar has kind of grown on me and I'd like to see a little bit more. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hijacked Edition: I'm in INDIA!

Camel butt including camel diaper.
I'm in India! And I'm hijacking this this blog because I'm too lazy to start a new one for this trip and, well, you all already know it's here. Besides, India is much more exciting then my dating life right now.

We're not in Alberta anymore, R'lyeh. ( Wizard of Oz reference. No, my dog is not with me.)

Things I have learned in the past 24 hours in India:

1. I look like a Bollywood actress, apparently.

 I've heard exactly that twice in the last 24 hours. First from a guy who was 'helping' us out the night we arrived. (More on why there are quotations later.) And once from a tuk tuk* driver earlier this evening.

Maybe that's why people keep staring at me.

Women stare at me. Men stare at me. Children stare at me. No one is shy about it. They stare to the point that their heads turn nearly all the way around as they walk past. I was told this would happen. I thought I was prepared for it. I was not. I try to ignore it.

2. My body functions fairly well when running on no sleep for 31 hours. 


 My brain, unfortunately, does not.  People will  and do take advantage of that.

The aforementioned helper (refer to lesson # 1 ) was one of those people. To make a long story short, neither mine nor my brother's brain was working when a cab driver told us we could not get to our hotel because the road was closed.

Why was it closed?

Because Barack Obama is coming to visit (true) and there have been threats to his security ( could be true. Hard to verify but not unbelievable. ) so the police have closed some streets completely to everyone and one of those streets is where my pre-booked hotel is located ( I guess that's believable. The hotel is in a popular area of Delhi ). And all the hotels in Delhi are completely booked up unless I want to spend the equivalent of 500$ a night ( wait a second, that's a little fishy sounding, but ok ).

So, the cab driver took us to a " tourist information center " open at 1 am. ( Really?! Brain? Does that makes any sense? )

Long story short, the guy there got us a hotel room in Agra and arranged a driver to take us there, drive us around and get us back to Delhi for our flight to Kashmir for a great low price! (Now that I think of it, my brain must have completely switched off by this point. The price isn't bad, if I was in Canada!)

The kicker? Obama isn't going to be in Delhi until January 27!

Thanks Obama and thanks brain.

3. The Taj Mahal is an elaborate set of four tombs.

I'm completely serious. Shah Jahan built what is commonly refered to as the Taj Mahal ( the white dome building ) to honour his third (or second, depending on who you talk to) wife, Mamtaz Mahal, but there are three other tombs in the complex. One for each of his other three wives. And all four tombs is what is actually the Taj Mahal. The more you know!

Why did one wife get an elaborate, white marble tomb with precious stone inlay and white and black diamonds ( which the British stole when they arrived. What jerks! ) ensconced in the ceiling?

Because he loved her the most.

Why did he love her the most?

Because she gave birth to 14 children!!! The last of which killed her and only 6 survived beyond infancy.

To recap. To get a man to really really love you, have lots of babies, make sure most of them die and then make sure the final one kills you.

Cynicism about true love and having babies to please a man aside, the Taj Mahal is truly a beautiful place to visit. Pictures do not and could never do it any true justice. The architectural design of it is a wonder. The domes rely purely on weight and angles to stay up as here are no pillars or beams holding them. It's main building is pure white marble that came from a quarry 450 km (please don't quote me on that exact number) from Agra and was brought by elephants and camels (careful, they spit!). There are carvings and precious stone inlays that were all done by hand. It took 22 years to complete and I would imagine most of that time was spent inlaying the precious stones are carving the ornate decorations on the walls.

This! This is what I'm talking about.
OH! and the architect that designed the buildings had his thumb and forefingers on each hand removed after completion so he could never make anything more beautiful.** I was assured that he was paid very well, well enough that six generations of his descendants lived quite well off the money. Those descendants still work with marble and precious stones and we were able to visit their shop and see how it was done. It's a very simple process but very precise.

I couldn't do it. Imagine spending hours upon hours (we're talking days here!) getting a precious stone ground down to the perfect size and shape you want just to have it break at the last moment. I'd Hulk smash every thing at that point.

I also bought some work from this shop. ( A set of six marble coasters ) My brother thinks I got ripped off. I think the price I paid for them was fair ( under 60$ CDN ) I think we have differing ideas of what ripped off means.

4. The drivers here drive like I drive in GTA:5. 

No joke. The only difference is that they are better at avoiding accidents and pedestrians then I am, and they drive on the opposite side of the road.

They also don't shoot random bystanders for fun.

From what I can tell, the only rule is to honk your horn often so everyone else knows you're there.

What an amazing place!!! Even if you include the getting a bit ripped off ( Yes, I know you warned me and yes, I've learned my lesson. )

* tuk tuk = auto rickshaw. If you don't know what a rickshaw is, google it. In fact, you can even google tuk tuk. So the asterisk is really not needed, but I'll leave it anyway.

** note to self and anyone else who wants to take note: Never do something so well for someone ( especially someone who can have your fingers chopped off ) that people don't want you to do better. Always stay slightly below that level of awesome. )