Thursday, March 29, 2012

incredibly, India: Day 3, part 2

Welcome back! If you remember, we were just finishing things up at Jaigar Fort, climbing trees and all that fun stuff.
On the way to the Amber Palace--it's behind us.

After this we headed to Amber Palace. To orient you, Amber Palace is built in a valley, whereas the fort is built on an adjacent hill. Standing from a wall of Jaigarh Fort and looking down at Amber Palace, this confused me. To me, it would have been logical to have the fort built around the palace or have the fort be located below the palace. Because an attacking force would start at the bottom and go up the hill--meaning they would reach the palace first. Which would be a problem if there were rulers/people of leadership in the palace. Also, the fort looked like it was made to accomodate royalty, so you can understand my befuddlement. Then the guard who voluntarily started acting as our tour guide explained to Anu that there was a tunnel that led from the palace to the fort. Oh so clever and tricky. I suppose the palace would then act as a decoy in the event of an attack? What a beautiful and elaborate decoy. I'm assuming it was never necessary since it's still in one piece and not demolished.

This is the boy we bought kulfi from-- it was frozen in little cups and he
pulled them out on sticks for us.
We also had to walk a little ways to get to the palace, but not quite as far. At this point, it was getting just a little toasty outside, so we stopped for some kulfi--one of the few street foods that Anu actually allowed us to eat. The best way I can describe kulfi is frozen condensed milk with spices and pieces of nuts mixed in.

The Amber Palace was, like previous sites, beautiful. The walls were a combination of red and yellow as opposed to the predominant red that I had noticed on many of the other buildings. They showed their age and their wear, but there was a wonderful charm about it. Amber Palace also has what looks like a receiving court with a garden and fountain in front of it.

The garden had walkways, but they were off limits to tourists. The receiving court was open air but was covered. The interior walls of this area were inlaid with glass and mirror pieces from top to bottom. We were only allowed to walk in one part as there was some restoration happening while we were there. The designs were intricate and beautiful and the mirrors in the shade made the receiving court seem spacious and cool.

The garden-- the receiving area was at the top left of this photo

The receiving area with a garden view.
A close up of some of the inlaid mirrors

Restoration in progress
This gives you idea of what it all looked like, put together.

We wandered around Amber palace for a while, seeing some places where they cooked and had separate chambers for men and women. Here, as in other places, there were many complex latticework windows and walls. Thinking back, it still amazes me and makes me wonder how long it took and how skilled the workers must have been.

You can see part of the protective wall.
Standing in one of the towers
A detail of one of the latticework walls that sort of doubled as a window.

We wandered all around and bumped into this group of kids. I'd say they ranged in age from 4-15, give or take. They were so full of laughter and I couldn't resist taking a few photos. This made them giggle more and then as I was leaving, I turned around to wave, and one posed for me! They were so fun and so beautiful. I wonder if there was a holiday or if they were skipping school or if they just didn't go to school.

So beautiful!

Strike a pose! They have such beautiful smiles.

Before we left Jaipur, we did a little shopping, and I bought things like silk pillowcases and a pair of handmade shoes and a bag. Jaipur is known for their block printing. I was tempted to buy a blanket or a coverlet set, but they were kind of pricey. I went, instead, for a simple piece of art printed on silk. It was the trio of a camel, elephant and horse. The merchant told me they are the symbols of India because they represent the three landmarks and because the animals are symbolic. The horse represents power, the elephant; good luck, and the camel; love.

A lot of places were closed, because Tuesday was their rest day. This was probably a good thing, because we may never have left if we had had more shopping options.

Finally we headed off in the dust to go back to Delhi since it was a good 5-6 hour drive back.

We got back to Delhi pretty late, but Anu and her parents took us to a cafeteria style restaurant near their home and we feasted on all these different types of bread and curries. Oh, and of course, we had our mandatory lassi to go with the meal.

Lassi cuts the spicy food intensity. And tastes just so yummy.
Part of our feast. (this is where I ask Anusree for names of all these delectable dishes)
Update: the bread is called Bhatura and the chickpea dish is called Chola.
More feast-y goodness. There was so much foooood!
Update: the bread on the left is Naan, Dal Makhani is in the top middle bowl and on the right we have Paneer Tikka with kebabs
She's such a good hostess. And you can just see Nikka's salivary glands on overtime. Sorry for the blurriness. I was hungry.
Update: Anu is serving Dosa, which is a South Indian style of bread, and the curry in the bottom right corner is Saambar, which is also South Indian. According to Anu, "you have chutney and saambar with the dosa and sometimes it has a potato filling inside the dosa. For all the vegetable dishes we call them subji, and the desserts were jalebi (the squiggly orange things)and gulab jamun (the dark brown balls)" Now you know. Go get you some. (I might have to print out this post so I know what to order next time. No shame.)

With that, my friends, we come to the end of Day 3. One more day to go! Hang in there, I hope you're not getting tired of hearing about India!

P.S. You can read about the earlier days of my Indian adventure here, here, here and here (in chronological order, of course)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

incredibly, India: Day 3, part 1

After a sound night's sleep, we got up and went for a continental breakfast. I can't say that I remember exactly what I ate, since it was a pretty run of the mill continental breakfast, but there might have been something with curry or naan thrown in there. And tea.

View of Jaipur from our hotel room in the morning.
But enough about breakfast. On to the day, because there was lots to be done, sights to be seen, rupees to be spent!

First we made a stop at Hawa Mahal. Fortunately for us both, I did a little Google research and found out that it is a palace. It was occupied by a Rajasthani emperor. It is massive. Lots and lots of windows to what I can only assume is lots and lots of rooms since I didn't actually see the inside of the building. According to Wikipedia, the latticed windows were for the women-- so they could see what everyday life looked like without actually leaving or being seen by outsiders. I think this would have been interesting to see the inside of, but I don't know that we could or maybe it was closed or maybe we just didn't have the time.
Hawa Mahal. It's five stories high. From where we where standing, I couldn't really get a good shot that included the whole structure. But this should give you an idea.

Here is a photo of Anu and I, to give
you a reference for scale.
While we were standing outside looking up at this imposing structure, a young lady started talking to me. English was not her first language, but she asked me where I was from, and told me that she was Bangladeshi. I'd never met anyone from Bangladesh. Then she asked if she could take a picture with me. Oh. That's why she wanted to talk to me. Ok.

What happened next was really what I found funny.

Nikka and Anu were standing slightly apart from me since I had wandered to the side to take some photos. This is how the Bangladeshi woman approached me. But then, there was a group of about three or four Indian women who were standing near Nikka and Anu and suddenly started asking Nikka if they could take a picture with her. They singled Nikka out and for once, I was watching this happen to someone else. Anu told me it was because they saw Nikka with me and so they wanted a picture with her. I wonder how they singled her out, since she was wearing sunglasses and could have passed for Indian unless she started speaking.

Here is Nikka, being swarmed.
Nikka with her new friends. The girl in the purple jacket is the Bangladeshi girl who first started talking to me. I don't know if she knew the other women or if she just wanted to get in on the fun, but there she is!

After making new friends, we went and toured the City Palace. There were displays from throne rooms and clothes that were worn by royals. There were also displays from times of colonialism, like cannons and things like that. Again, we were free to make up our own tour as we went.

Inside the City Palace
There were many of these above doorways
Arches are common, and I kept noticing them in sets of three. Perfect for taking pictures!

There was a courtyard with six doorways, all painted differently. This was the peacock doorway.

We saw two men dressed up in what I assume to be Rajasthani traditional clothing. We took a picture with them, and when we turned to go, one of the men tapped us on the shoulder and asked for a tip. Maybe I should have followed his example and asked for a tip every time someone asked to take a picture with me. I think it would have either discouraged people from taking pictures or if not, at least I could have made a little money? Oh well, maybe next time.

We found out we had to tip them, AFTER we took the picture.

Next we headed on our way to a craft bazaar. Unfortunately we didn't get where we meant to go because it was the wrong place or something along those lines, but we did find the water palace. Well, I call it the water palace. After doing some searching with my trusty Google and Wikipedia, I'm pretty sure it's actually called 'Jal Mahal,' which actually translates to 'Water Palace.' Am I good or what? It was built in the middle of the lake. It looked like it had been submerged, but from where we were, it looked well kept and there were trees growing in what might have been a courtyard. I'm pretty sure there were boats going to and from it, but we didn't get to go. We just stood on the shore and took pictures. I guess I'll just have to go back someday!

There's the water palace! Neat, huh? I wonder if they get lots of mosquitoes in the summer or if they have a system for that.

Next, we drove to Jaigarh Fort and Amber Palace.

The fort took a little walking to get to, and I was already wanting to spend more time around the walls and outposts that we were passing. I had a great encounter with a monkey. Monkeys are part of the wildlife here, and it isn't unusual to see them walking around, bold as daylight, going about their business. Well, we were exploring a walled section where you could walk on the wall and there were little outposts spaced out along the wall and the walls had divets and windows where you could stick a rifle or bow and arrow or cannon. You get my drift. Well, I'm looking through one, and see this monkey on the other side. Apparently there is a ledge or shelf on the other side, because he is just sitting there (people watching?).

Le monkey. Hello!

Now, I get pretty excited because my backyard doesn't usually have monkeys. Unless you count my brother when he comes to visit. Just kidding Ian! So I'm standing there, snapping away, telling the monkey to work it, and he does. He hisses at me. All teeth bared. I kind of chuckle when he looks away. Then Anu convincingly persuades me to walk away after she recounts a story of a friend who had a monkey climb on her shoulders and start pulling at her hair. No, thank you. My hair can stay on my little head. And that monkey can continue to while his time away on the outside of the guard wall.

I don't think this was an offer of friendship...

The fort was great to wander around in and take pictures. There was a large courtyard that had three arches overlooking the city--it's normally open, but apparently someone had just had a party there so it was closed for the time being. What a great venue!
Jaigarh Fort courtyard. You could hang disco balls from the three arches! Or stick one at the top of the pointy thing on the tower! Perfect! Then the whole city could get in on the festivities!

On the way out, we saw a banyan (I think) tree and I just couldn't resist the urge to climb it. And miracle of miracles, Anu joined me. Just kidding; it wasn't a miracle, per se, Anu just isn't always a tree-climbing person. I must say Anusree, you did it with grace and style and only a little fear. Though the fear might have been because we were encouraging you to jump down from the tree. You did it, though!

We climbed a tree!
She jumped!

From here we went on to Amber Palace. But, you'll have to tune in later for the next installment because I don't want your computer to freeze/die/go into convulsions from the multitude of pictures that I'm including in these posts. I tried to pare them down-- after all, I took over 600 pictures! Don't worry, it should be up soon.  Here's a teaser for your enjoyment:

Can you see the Palace? Hint. It's the big yellow/tan one in the middle.

Until then,

Thursday, March 22, 2012

incredibly, India: Day 2, part 2

Now to continue with the second half of day 2.
Fatehpur Sikri

Yummy Yummy
After a quick drink and snack at a coffee house right outside the bounds of the Taj (Cafe Coffee Day-- Anu Approved), we headed on to the next site. At the coffee shop, which is apparently owned by Anu's uncle or friend or someone she knows, there were very few non-coffee drinks. Which I found interesting, since tea is a very common beverage in India. I ended up getting a chocolate coffee smoothie type drink. Anu advised me to drink it fast and not eat the pieces of ice. I was confused. When I asked her why, she said that not all restaurants have filtered water. So though their coffee drinks might be safe, the water that they use to make ice may not be. Talk about a landmine of a drink. Have you ever tried avoiding ice in an ice blended drink? Let's just say it didn't last long and I survived to tell the tale.

As we were walking back to where our car was parked, we passed lots of roadside shops, selling souvenirs and handcrafted objects. Agra is known for its stone work (who knew?), and so I invested in this gorgeous little tealight holder. It was handcarved out of some kind of stone (marble? any geologists out there?). It had a base where the candle sits, and then on top, there is a sphere that sits over top and has elephants carved into it. I didn't take a picture, but if you ever come and visit, I'm sure you'll see it. It casts a wonderful little glow.

Fatehpur Sikri (I still can't pronounce the first word, but I'm pretty sure the second word goes something like seek-ree) was our next destination. This was apparently the palace where the emperor who built the Taj lived. This palace was clearly made to be lived in. Our time was limited here, but we saw courts and hallways and I could only imagine the splendor and beauty of this place when it was in use, in its prime.

We saw green parrots! I think they were just wild/free parrots. They stood out very starkly against the red stone. This picture was taken from a good distance, so it's not as clear as I would have liked, but you get the point.

I enjoyed this site more because people lived here. Laughed here. Cooked meals here. I could imagine daily life happening here. There were also fewer people so no one asked me to take a picture with them and we could wander and explore as we pleased.
This area had shorter columns than other areas, for some reason. It could be that it was the base of a higher tower with several layers so they were trying to keep it structurally sound? I have no idea, I am no architect.

We saw a stray puppy that I wanted to take home with me, but thought there might be some trouble with immigration, so sadly, I left him there. We walked through halls, peered out windows and tried to evade a very persistent man who tried to get us to hire him as a tour guide.

Puppy that probably only wanted to be our friend for food. Too bad we didn't have any.
The shorter columns I talked about in the picture with Nikka and Anu? Those columns were the base of this structure. I wish we had time to climb to the top to see the view.
I wanted to go exploring everywhere. If only we had more time!
View from the window above, to the right of the trees. I don't know the purpose of this structure, but it was beautiful and had a great view.

I could have explored for hours, but day light was waning and we still had to drive several hours to Jaipur.

This banyan tree was near the waiting area for the shuttle to take us back to the parking lot. So crazy and intricate and tangled!

We finally left Fatehpur Sikri, piled into our car and headed off in the dust. We arrived pretty late at the hotel in Jaipur. Before we left her house, I specifically asked Anu if I needed to bring identification with me while we were traveling she said no, even though I asked her twice. Guess what hiccup we had at the hotel when we got there. You guessed it. ID. Turns out you DO need identification to check into a hotel if you are a foreigner. Because it was late, or because we were three tired looking young women, they let us check in. Turns out Nikka was the only one who had any form of ID and I think she only had her Filipino driver's license.

Even though I am reasonably well traveled, I didn't bring any, so if you ever take an international trip, take your ID while you're gallivanting! I was concerned about it being stolen or somehow knicked from my purse which is why I ultimately left it, but definitely take this into consideration! ID would have been helpful later on as well-- some (meaning one) places have student discount! Even though I'm no longer a student, my student ID date doesn't expire until 2013! Lesson learned. I am so very thankful that they let us check in. Where else would we have stayed? Thank you Jesus and reception desk people.

We were famished at this point and went up to our room to drop off our many bags then head to the buffet, when we walked into our room and discovered that the bathroom's shower...had glass walls. Adjacent to the room itself. See-through glass walls. Not stained or colored or blacked out-- plain, see through, glass. Well, this could take our friendships to a whole new level. Nikka and I busted out laughing and started taking fully dressed pictures, until Anu stepped into the shower with me (how many times in my life do I get to say that sentence?), and in a rather panicked voice, said "guys, there're blinds, THERE ARE BLINDS!!" To which we laughed more, in a slightly relieved manner. I promise this is the last shower related story I have to share.

Help, Anusree! This had potatoes and paneer, I think. I just know it was good. And spicy.

Two different types of bread. Again, Anu?

Finally, we went down to dinner, and we ordered some Rajastani dishes off the menu ('we' meaning Anu, since we didn't know one dish from the other). There were very few people in the restaurant at this point, and the service was...a little unattentive (they didn't give us menus until we asked for them and then didn't come to take our order until we waved them over), but the food was delicious.

Then we headed back up to our room. I took a shower and passed out, oblivious to everything. I guess Anu and Nikka got in bed at some point, but I have no idea when.

And this, my friends concludes Day 2. We did so much in just one day! It was so wonderful, and I enjoyed every moment.

Two more days to go, my friends! Stay tuned? Any "oh crap" moments while traveling? Times that there was nothing you could do but laugh about the situation? Please share!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

incredibly, India: Day 2, part 1

From Day 1- browsing at Dilli Haat
Before I begin my recounting of day 2, let me start with how day 1 ended. With a shower. Because I am a night shower-er. I just like getting in bed and feeling clean. Anywho. I get in the shower and begin testing all of Anusree’s shampoos. Just kidding, Anu! But I start washing my hair, and going through the normal shower rituals. Until icy water begins to flow in abundance from the showerhead. Now, I have been in the shower all of 53 seconds when this happens. Needless to say, I am not ok with this. My fingers and toes are starting to turn blue. I urgently call out to Anu, “Um, the water is REALLY cold.” And she says, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, if you turn the water pressure high, the hot water runs out fast.” Great. I can barely move my fingers because they’re frozen and I’m shivering. Long story short, I had to go get into another shower that was in another bathroom in another bedroom. Wearing only a towel and having shampoo in my hair (I’ll give you a moment to laugh; it’s ok). Good thing no one else was upstairs. I've never been so appreciative of a hot shower.

Another thing I learned over this first night is that Nikka likes the covers. She may be small, but girl can steal covers like it’s her job. Though how she could use all that cover by herself is beyond me. I slept with just Anu the next night. I learned my lesson.

About an hour in, the sun started peeking above the horizon. Oh, and
that's not early morning foggy dew-- it's smog.
So, back to Day 2. We got up before the crack of dawn, got dressed in warm clothing and ate a little breakfast before heading out.Well, I dressed in warm clothing. Meaning a turtleneck. But it turned out to be really warm. Go figure. To start the day, we meant to leave at 6:30, but the driver we’d hired had trouble finding Anu’s house, so it was more like 7am. We piled into the backseat and got cozy with blankets and pillows. I wanted to stay awake to look at the sights we were passing on the drive, but it was dark, so I wasn't getting much.

There was a lot of dozing on this drive, with a few interesting pictures scattered in there, but other than a stop for gas and a stop at a rest stop where we ordered masala chai, it was uneventful.

We passed these two gentleman on the drive.
Something that I found interesting was that there are specific rest stops for tourists. They have walls that surround the restrooms and the shop and parking lot. We made separate stops for the driver-- I guess they aren't allowed to use these facilities. The tourist facilities have restrooms where you tip the ladies who are inside handing out paper towels (I don't know about the men's rooms, since I obviously didn't go in there), and browse shops that are filled with items that are targeted at tourists. With Anu's inside information, it was helpful to know we could find everything at cheaper prices elsewhere.
Eventually, we started getting close to the Taj Mahal (eep!). This icon was really the only sight that I had prior knowledge of before coming to India (hello, ignorance), so I was excited to get this tourist thing going.

The Red Fort
We passed the Red Fort on the way to the Taj and it was beautiful. The Red Fort is also in Agra, and apparently, you can see the Taj from the Red Fort. It was so named because (I'm assuming) of the red stone that was used to build it. There was also a Red Fort in Delhi, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Not to be confused, this was the Red Fort that we did NOT enter.
The cow.
In my excitement, I had my lens sticking out the window, snapping pictures of anything and everything (trust me, I had over 600 pictures in 3 days), when the driver made a turn and started driving through a herd of cows. Cows roam freely in India, so this was not unusal. I just wasn't expecting it, and nearly got cow nose juice on my camera. Needless to say, I got a very detailed shot of this cow. He (or she) could use it for their profile picture.

Here is where we got dropped off. Do you see the Taj? No? We didn't either.

The women, waiting.
Our driver dropped us off after the cow encounter, and we headed towards the Taj. We got a ride on a bike rickshaw and we were off! Until we got dropped off... on the opposite side from the entrance. I actually think we could have entered from that way, but Anu knows best. And we got to see a little more of daily life around the Taj. So we walked around, purchased our tickets, breezed through the short "foreigner women" line (guess February isn't a popular time for tourists) and headed in.

Nikka and I started taking pictures at the gate to the Taj and I think Anu was a little puzzled. She was probably thinking something along the lines of "guys, this is just the gate... the Taj is INSIDE." Eventually we went in, and saw it. The famed Taj Mahal. It was grand, beautiful and a testament to creative ingenuity and an emperor's love for his favorite wife.

The Taj Mahal, taken by yours truly, because I stood here!

Proof that she was there, looking straight at the Taj

We walked all around the Taj and up into the mausoleum. What was majestic from afar was intricate and meticulously crafted up close. There was detailed carving and inlaid stone everywhere. We had to wear coverings over our shoes or go barefoot to actually enter the Taj-- they wanted to keep it clean and shiny.
A detail shot of the inlaid stone-- designs like these covered the building. There were not only flowers, but inlaid Arabic script flowing up and down windows and columns. I believe it was from the Quran.

A view from the side as we walked around to enter
the Taj
There were a couple instances where people asked to take pictures with me (because I am clearly a foreigner), but eventually I just had to learn to say no. It was actually a little uncomfortable-- I'm not really anybody famous and it was a little awkward. This happened a few times, so I tried to be gracious but keep it short. I wonder why they wanted a picture with me. Is it the idealized conception of the west? Was it their impression that movie stars are often white? Was it because they had never seen a non-Indian in person and wanted proof? Was I a spectacle to them? I'm not unaccustomed to being stared at-- growing up as white looking child in a foreigner-sparse part of China made me accustomed to that, but going to places like India and the Philippines (which both have western colonization in their histories) and evoking a similar response intrigues me. I don't feel any ill will towards them, but I am curious about their perspective.

There was another set of these buildings and they
flanked the Taj- I wonder if there are or were living
spaces here.
As magnificent as the Taj Mahal was, I was struck by the building itself-- it centered on the mausoleum. Both the emperor and the wife for whom he built this palace were entombed there. There were no other rooms; all alcoves and nooks surrounded this tomb-- there were no living quarters at all. I know that the emperor built this for his wife after she passed away in childbirth and it is a symbol of great love in India, but I was saddened by this. Though the world knows, she never knew the length that he went to build this for her. Did he tell her how much he loved her when she was alive? Did she know?

The Taj, while it is now a national treasure and source of tourist income, never housed families. The emperor couldn't take it with him when he died to show her. How did it make his other wives feel to see him build this for one woman? Was building this structure an expression of how they felt about death? The afterlife? For me, it was a reminder of how temporal this world is-- how, no matter what we do, build or accomplish, we will one day die. And this makes me think-- I don't want to leave an elaborate and beautiful tomb behind me. Something to think about.

Any way. We took many pictures, and got some pictures taken and printed by a local vendor. I can't seem to find mine at the moment :( but hopefully they will turn up somewhere. I'll keep you posted if they pop up. 

Courtesy of Anusree :)
And here is where the intermission comes in. I know I have only covered the first part of this day, but I didn't want to overload on pictures or words; neither did I want to leave out details, because I want to be able to look back and remember as well. I spent a whole post talking about my first half day in India, so I thought this would be fitting as well.

Through my words and pictures, hopefully you'll see what I saw in this incredible India. 
Stay tuned for the rest of Day 2!