Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Misc india photos

Where we eat dinner each night

(You better believe amanda and I spent a full day in Chennai tracking down one of these tents to bring home as a souvenir)

Serving up dinner on banana leaf plates

The cold water dispenser. (especially appreciated after play time!)

Where the kids eat their meals (no silverware, just hands!)

Squatters and bucket showers

Rising Star lawn mower

The Elephant house (where we stayed)

Dance class!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Delhi and Agra

While at Rising Star, we spent a weekend on a group trip to Delhi and Agra. It was a bit of a whirlwind adventure but so so fun. Although, for the record, I'm not sure I can handle a trip with 30 other people ever again.

We left Rising Star at about 3 in the morning (Amanda and I were supposed to wake up at 2 but somehow neither of us actually SET the alarms and we woke up in a panic about 20 mins before we were supposed to leave) and arrived in Delhi around 10am after a quick flight out of Chennai

Our first reminder of why we don't travel in groups came when someone in the group realized he had left his passport on the plane and had to go searching for it while the rest of us waited an hour. Awesome. Thank goodness he found it!

Driving through the city was pretty crazy. Vendors everywhere, every vehicle imaginable all on the roads together, people running out in the middle of traffic to ask for money. Nuts.

As we headed into Delhi, our first order of business was a Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on Steroids.

The streets were so narrow, our Rickshaws barely fit through. It was definitely nerve wracking to look up above us, see the bundles of exposed wires, and then look back and see a scooter coming at you, full speed ahead.

As we swerved through the tiny streets, past shops and vendors and often straight into other vehicles, I counted at least 5 times that I thought to myself, "ok, this is it, you are about to die", and yet, here I am blogging, so clearly we survived.

We also spent time in the Spice Market and Chili Markets which were straight out of a movie. We rushed down dark alleys, the ground covered in slippery, slimy muck, while stealing glances at the mysterious men conversing in the shadows. Seriously.

We LOVED it. Often when we visit a country, I don't get a "holy crap this is authentic" vibe in the tourist areas, but I sure did in Delhi.

The spice markets were so beautiful. Stacks and stacks of nuts and spices everywhere you turned. I bought some Saffron and Indian Vanilla that I am so excited to use when we get home!

The Chili market was pungent. My nostrils literally burned from the smell of the dried pods.

And to get to it, we had to climb up a dark, steep, slimy staircase. Once we were at the top, a whole new view of Delhi unfolded before us.

We headed off to an Incredible lunch where we gorged ourselves on the best Indian food I have ever had.

(thanks for smiling, Patrick)

Butter chicken, garlic naan, basmati rice and raita. Mmmm I am drooling just thinking about it.

While waiting for our food, I ventured outside to visit the local snake charmer.

Imagine my surprise when, as I sat down next to him, he opened up his basket and pulled out a Cobra (which he proceeded to hand to me)! A rat snake is one (harmless) thing, a Cobra is another! But I think Patrick was even more terrified than I was. He kept saying, keep calm Sarah, keep calm. Haha.

We spent the rest of the day driving the 6 hours to Agra so that we could wake up to a sunrise over the Taj Mahal. (oh yes and a stop at McDonald's for ice cream cones and air hockey)

Talk about an incredible place!

It is 10000 times cooler in person than pictures. I had no idea it was so huge! And so so intricate? There is inlayed marble everywhere. And the entire compound is perfectly symmetrical - including the useless building to the right, built solely to balance out the Mosque on the Taj's left hand side.

When we first arrived, there was a heavy layer of fog (helllooo monsoon season!) but luckily it cleared up by the time we left so we got a zillion pics in it's full glory.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm a novelty item in India. Lots of pics like this...

And this...

To be fair, we took lots of pics like this...

and this...

So I'm sure it evens out.

We headed back to the hotel for breakfast and naps before meeting up again to go to the Red Fort and shopping.

Somehow we missed taking a picture of the outside, but trust me when I say this thing was very huge and very red.

A totally different style than the Taj, but still soo detailed and beautiful. Amanda and I have a fabulous idea to create a vegetable garden inspired by the gardens here.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in a Rug factory

marble factory

and crappy street markets. We were all extremely disappointed by the shopping opportunities on this trip. Yet another reason it's better to travel solo. At least there were lots of commissions given to our tour guide though! :)

That night we ate at Pizza Hut. it wasn't exactly what I would have chosen, but if you insist in me eating pizza after a week of Indian food, I'm not going to put up a big fight.

We left the next morning to drive back to Delhi, in time for a very quick tour of the Baha'i temple before more crappy shopping and our flight back. It's aptly named the Lotus Temple and it was really cool. Sparse on the inside, but the outside was amazing.

And the grounds were beautiful as well. Which was refreshing since India is not exactly tidy.

Afro trees!

Oh yes! And how could I forget, a pit stop/ elephant and camel ride!!!

The outskirts of Delhi were the biggest shock for me. That's where I started to really see the abject poverty the people here live in. I can't even fathom living that way and yet there they are. Wading through the garbage, swatting swarms of flies and squatting in dirt clods outside their tent village slums. It was really hard for me to stare out the window of our bus for the 6hrs it took to get back to the city, but it was also really important for me to see and acknowledge. My life would be a whole lot easier if I'd never gone to Delhi. I selfishly wish I could just pull a curtain over that part of my brain and keep moving on because I'm overwhelmed by the amount of need in this country and the inability to do anything about it.

And yet, I'm still quick to rush back to my fancy air-conditioned hotel room. I keeping feeling like this country is in a constant state of contradiction, but then again, so am I.