Monthly Archives: December 2012

Indian Modes of Transportation

As my time in India is coming to an end, I’d like to give you a list of ways I’ve been travelling throughout India. Most modes of transportation are an adventure, at least for me.

  • Car – this may seem like a standard for most people in North America, but here in India, it’s a luxury. Most people with cars will hire a driver instead of driving themselves. Also, you can hire a car for a day through different agencies. Ask a local for a recommendation. Most are equipped with A/C. It’s a good way to travel if you have multiple people and travelling long distances – the cost can be divided between all passengers.
  • Taxis – if you don’t have someone to pick you up from the airport, you can always hail a taxi. There are different companies that are more trustworthy, like the black and yellow ones in Bombay are better than the blue and white ones. I’ve never been told the difference though. Also, you can order a taxi for a pick-up but depending on when you order one, you will end up paying an ordering/processing fee. All taxis are metered.
  • Motorbikes/two-wheelers – these are very prevalent in all parts of India. They weave in an out of traffic and can hold various numbers of people. I’ve seen up to five but have heard eight can fit on one – this includes children. I went on one for the first time and it was pretty awesome. We went slow so it was a nice ride. It felt really liberating!
  • Auto rickshaws – these are three-wheeled motorize vehicles that have seating in the back, driver in the front. Depending on the city you’re in, you will have to bargain for a price prior to getting in. If you think the drivers are charging too much, you can just walk away. There are enough of them around to hail down another. In Bombay, they are metered so there’s a standard price for the first kilometer or so and then it starts going up in price.
  • Bicycle rickshaw – humans powering bicycles with a carriage attached in the back. We went on one in Jaipur and it was a nice way to see the city at a slower pace. Also, this is a good way to travel short distances if you’re just too lazy to walk. You will need to bargain for the price. I’m not sure if they are available in all places.
  • Share Auto – a converted jeep that has two benches on the main cabin of the vehicle and two additional seats in the trunk. These vehicles run a set route and pick up passengers along the way. You have to hail them as well and ask if they’re going to where you need to go. I’m not sure how the pricing works, possibly based on distance.
  • Bus – This is the most economical way to travel between cities. There are buses that run inter- and intra-city. You just need to know which route you’re taking. We travelled to Kancheeparum for ~100 rupees return/pp, It was about 3 hours on the bus but a great way to see the country side and how people live outside of the urban areas. It can get crowded within the city so be prepared to get squished. To get on and off buses, you have to hail them and somethings you need to run to catch it. There are no doors, so people can hold onto the rails and hang.
  • Train – This is my favourite mode of transportation because I’ve never been on a sleeper train before. So much fun because it was an overnight train ride so we didn’t have to deal with the sweltering heat and humidity of the day. There are different prices depending on what type of ticket you get – regular seat, sleeper, 1 A/C, 2 A/C, 3 A/C and possibly others (I’m don’t remember what other classes there are). The sleeper doesn’t have A/C but it was fine and a fraction of the price compared to 1 A/C. I’d recommend travelling by train for over night trips. Bring your own blanket/sheet because I’m not sure if they provide it for you.
  • Horse carriage – this was a touristy thing to do, but so much fun being pulled in a horse carriage and we got to see parts of Bombay this way. You have to bargain for the pricing in touristy areas and cannot be found everywhere.

These are so far, the ways I’ve travelled, what other ways are there in India?

G

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Madurai – Temples

We went to Madurai for a two day adventure and I finally got to ride on a train!  The sleeper beds weren’t that bad and since we took the overnight train, it was a peaceful enough sleep. I really enjoyed Madurai because it wasn’t as hectic as other places we have visited.

The temple we went to was huge! It was kind of ironic to be visiting temples on Christmas day but it turned out we weren’t the only ones doing it. I found out that December is a very auspicious month so many worshipers make the pilgrimage to various temples in the surrounding towns.

One thing that has been apparent in most temples is that foreigners and non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the most inner sanctums of the temples. There are blatant signs that forbid it. As I am not super religious, it still would have been nice to see the architecture and the statues of the inner sanctums.

We are heading for a one day trip to the beach tomorrow, regardless of how rainy it may be.

G

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Delhi – Shopping, Wedding and Protests

I have been in Chennai for the last two days and spent the previous 10 days in Delhi. The shopping in Delhi was very different from Bombay, more street markets than shops. We did our fair share of shopping getting scarves, clothing and accessories. There is a store completely devoted to bangles! There are multiple rooms all housing bangles – a magnificent place since we were actually buying from the supplier instead of a third party seller. It doesn’t even have an official name, it was definitely one of my favourite places!

The wedding events that occurred were so over the top and probably the grandest wedding I will ever attend in my life. The sangeet was held at a place called Kingdom of Dreams. There was dancing and singing to celebrate the couple and it was so much fun! The wedding itself was held at a private residence near the Shangri-La Hotel – also a decadent place to stay! The wedding ceremony occurred at 1:30am and lasted until 6:15am. Longest night of my life, it was pretty amazing to see the entire ceremony through though. I got a sense of what was happening with each ritual and why it was taking place.

Last but not least, I couldn’t end this post without mentioning the protesting that has been taking place near India Gate and Jantar Mantar in Delhi. It started off with as a peaceful student protest in the wake of the recent gang-raping of a 23 year old women – who is in critical conditions right now. The students were protesting for various reasons: what will the punishment be for the rapists and how long will it take to convict them, what measures will the government take to actively prevent future tragic events (other rape cases have also occurred in the last couple of days – victims being a 3 year old and 13 year old). These incidents are often putting the blame on the women – she should not have been out late at night or she should have been more careful. There is no onus on the man to take responsibilities for their actions. There are constant debates on television as to what has happened but the government’s response appears to be too late and halfheartedly. I’m not sure if the protests have been televised or reported at home but there needs to be more awareness on the issues of women safety and abuse.

Heading to Madrai tonight for a couple of days for temple seeing.

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends!

G

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Jaipur and Agra

I have spent that last three days touring Jaipur and Agra. It was the India that I had always imagined this country would be! We spent two days and a night in Jaipur, staying over at a guesthouse.

Jaipur

The first place on the itinerary was the Amber Fort. It was fantastic! After a five hour bus ride, we got driven to the entrance of the Fort and it was a beautiful yellow that envelops you. Also, there was a group of goats that greeted us when we got out of the car – a nice surprise. We wandered throughout the Fort discovering new rooms and corridors at every turn.  We climbed all the way to the top and had an amazing view of Jaipur!

Jaigah Fort was at the top of the Amber Fort. Once again gorgeous views and more great architecture. It was definitely worth the hike, we walked up a stone driveway where there were shuttle golf carts to drive people to the top.

Next, we drove through the mountain top to Narhargarh which housed the largest canon in India. There was a camel where you could pay for a ride but I told S it wasn’t worth it – we could just walk 🙂  Since we were getting tired, we drove down the mountain and stopped in front of the Lake Palace, which literally is built in the middle of the lake. Not sure what the entire purpose of it was to place it there but it was beautiful to look at nonetheless.

As the sun was setting, we got walked around the Pink City (aka Old City) and did a little shopping. All the store fronts and buildings are pinkish orange due to the type of red sand found in the area. It was super crowded and there were a lot of cows and stray dogs – though this is can be found in most parts of India! The style of clothing and availability items are geared towards cooler weather such as thicker scarves, duvets and blankets, Rajasthani clothing and shoes.

On our second day, we started off visiting Albert Hall (aka Central Museum), which housed many artifacts including pottery, statues, artwork, an Egyptian mummy and many more interesting pieces of history. It was a great walk through to see so  many different facets of Indian history – especially artwork that depicted different mythological stories. A distinct characteristic of the place was the flock of pigeons that hung out in front of the building. It was quite the sight to see the whole flock in flight flying above your head.

The City Palace was enormous! A series of gardens, grand halls, numerous rooms and once again, amazing views. There were a lot of stairs but once you got to the top, it was totally worth it. Taking a short walk from there, we went to Hawa Mahal (aka Wind/Air Palace). The intricate carvings of the place was breathtaking and I could only imagine what it would have looked like if it was fully furnished. It was a beautifully symmetrical building The last attraction was the Jantar Mantar. It houses the largest sun dial/time telling instrument that is said to be accurate within two seconds. Very interesting to think how people used to figure out the time without all our current gadgets.

For food, we had lunch at Niro’s Restaurant on MI Road that served very yummy Rajasthani food (dal – it’s made of lentils and spices, gutta curry is a specialty, pineapple raita and naan). On the second day, we went to Steam in the Pink City. We all got a Rajasthani Thali which included a dal, gutta curry, chickpea dish with naan, pappard and roti. Super delicious and very filling!

Overall, Jaipur was a great visit and I would definitely recommend it. Get a composite ticket for 300 rupees because it gives you access to most of the aforementioned attractions.

Agra

The Taj Mahal was first place we visited. With a hefty price of 750 rupees, it was still worth it to see. I must say that it looked more impressive from far away. The notion of building such a monument in the name of love is quite statement. The marble inlays and patterns found on the building is something to marvel at – considering it was all carved by hand! Inside the mausoleum, lay the wife and the husband that commissioned the place – it was very dim and you couldn’t really see anything. The corridors on the other hand received tons of sunlight.

We had lunch on a rooftop patio where we got to enjoy some great food and a bottle of Kingfisher. Very light beer but perfect for a sunny day. We ordered paneer, mutton curry and dal along with lots of naan (butter and garlic).

The Agra Fort had more interesting sights to see and was a lot bigger than the Taj. There were more rooms to explore and had amazing views of the Taj. I took over 150 pictures of the place! We caught sunset over the Fort walls, which was gorgeous! There was a lot more of the Fort that we didn’t have enough time to explore, so definitely worth another visit. It cost 250 rupees to enter if you show your ticket to the Taj Mahal (50 rupee discount).

Overall, it’s been a great couple of days but looking forward to a day of rest and then second wedding, here we come!

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Bombay Dreams

After being in Bombay for the last six days, there are some observations that I have made:

  • The gap between rich and poor is enormous – it can be seen in everyday life from people living on the streets to one of the richest man in the world building a multi-storey home complete with a ballroom floor and helipad in the roof 
  • Anything can happen in India – such as a man riding a white horse down a busy street and totally owning it
  • Tele-communication is very fast in this country – a lot can happen with just a phone call
  • The cost of living has to be compared in the local currency rather than converting it back to our currency because it has to be relative to what it’s worth in India. For example, a top can cost 300 rupees which is around $6. To us, that’s not a lot to us but in reality, it’s probably only worth 150 rupees. Knowing market value is an important piece of knowledge
  • Getting sick in India is not fun. I got something like the 24 hour flu/food poisoning symptoms and it felt horrible; luckily it was after the wedding festivities.  I’m very grateful for having a friend who knows what to do when someone falls ill. My sickness was most likely a result of exhaustion, eating a lot of street food and not staying hydrated enough. With a lot rest and sweating out the fever, I eventually ate a little bit. I was given some herbal medicine, peppermint and mint tablet, glucose water and harjmola (a candy that helps me to suppress nausea), which in the end made me feel a whole lot better.
  • People have huge appetites here. We would meet up with friends after work at 6 and we would go for a “snack” but in meal portions, walk around and then go for dinner at 9pm, eat a full, meal and then walk to get dessert. Insane amount of food that I would never imagined eating, especially so late at night
  • Working is a way life. Many people will leave their homes for work at 6am and don’t return until 7-8pm. Then when they get home, dinner still needs to be made and then possibly more reviewing of work and then bed. Work-life balance doesn’t exist here. You’re expected to pick up your phone and check emails when on vacation as well as respond to them
  • Street food!!!!! Keep cannot imagine why any city would limit the varieties and availability of street food because what I’ve had in Bombay was amazing!! Pani puri is a little puff ball filled with lentils chutney and mint water – one of my favourite foods of all time. Vada paved which is bread stuffed with deep fried potato patty with red and green chutney – had this at a street stall that was delicious. Kareem’s was a street side restaurant. That served great tandoori food. Paneer, tandoori mushrooms, chicken, raita, dal and a Thumbs Up (similar to Coca-Cola). The food is worth the wait
  • Shopping – one of my loves of life. Both street shopping and showroom shopping (going to the actual brand’s store) is heaven!!! The amount of variety plus low cost is bound to put you over budget – that is if you had one to begin with 🙂 We’re shipping some items back with my friend’s cousin so that we have more room to shop in Delhi

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Bombay because Delhi is our next stop. More adventures to follow!

G

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Bombay aka Mumbai – updated

It has been quite a journey so far. The flight to Bombay was an adventure. We learned that you have to pay for Internet at some airports such as Zurich and it takes a long time to fly halfway across the globe. We landed and quickly found the driver that was to take us to our accommodations near Coco Farms – where the wedding was to take place. The entire car ride took just over an hour. We didn’t really get to see the place until the morning where I realized that we were staying at the Samara Gardens and the wedding ceremonies were taking place at Coco Farms – a whole 5mins walk where we were staying.

With that said, the wedding ceremonies were great! I got some great photos of the bride and groom performing traditional wedding rituals. Long story short, I learned that there different rituals you perform depending on which part of India you’re from.

More to come soon, very tired and sleepy right now -it’s been a very long day. Also, we just got Internet so I’m going to try and update more often.

After a good night’s sleep, I’m ready to continue this post. The wedding rituals in the morning was in the south Indian style and started at 7:00am the day after we landed so we had around four hours of sleep and got up to get ready. Completely exhausted, my friend and I were running on adrenaline which was great until we hit 9:30am when I was ready to pass out. There was a second ceremony in the evening done in the Bengali style – east Indian – because the bride’s mother is also Bengali. Following each ceremony, there was food! My favourite part of the day. There is something about eating with your hands that you just feel more connected with the food you’re putting into your body. The food was great and we got to eat on banana leaves! A feat that I wasn’t sure I could handle since I’ve only done once.

I wish I took pictures but was so excited that I just ate it all! The food on the following day was quite different since it was just the reception,there wasn’t a formal ceremony; it was all passed appetizers and there was a bar! However, I didn’t end up getting a drink, which is probably shocking to those who know me but I didn’t eat much that day so didn’t want to embarrass myself.

The following day, many people were leaving early so we got up and had birthday cake to celebrate my friend and her cousin’s birthday. It was awesome cake! Pineapple cake is amazing with fresh cream – perfectly moist cake and delicious pieces of pineapple. Anyone know a good recipe for upside down pineapple cake? I want to make it when I get home.

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Chaos of packing

It’s been a long day and I’m finally done packing!! Off to bed and we fly out tomorrow afternoon…

Before:

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All finished!

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Two days to go!

Two days till take off – two suitcases and two carry-ons to pack.

There is a lot to do before leaving the country for a month. The last big trip I took, I left the country for six months and didn’t stress this much about it. Most of this stems from travelling to a country that is varying in weather (it’s winter but the temperature can range from 0-30 degrees depending on which city we’re in) and the fact that I don’t speak the language.

I’m feeling emotionally drained because I’m not going to be spending time with my family and friends during the holidays; I don’t get to bake lots of goodies; one good thing is I don’t have to stress about gifting. I plan on collecting souvenirs along the way and sorting it all out when I get home.

As you can probably tell from this post, it’s all over the place because I’m nervous, anxious to get on a plane and just tired (I’ve been engaged in some sort of event after work everyday for the last couple of weeks).

I’ve started throwing stuff into a suitcase but won’t start packing until tomorrow night. One of my best friends is coming over to help me pack and be my voice of reason for not over packing. I’ll post pictures of the packing process…my room is already a mess and I haven’t even really started yet.

What are your essentials when packing for an extended vacation?

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