Friday, February 27, 2009

Ellora "caves"

Hi, now I'm in Aurangabad. I took a 7 hour train from Mumbai which was hot and extremely uncomfortable. It probably would've been fine if I wasn't hemmed against the wall by a family of four. The mom and dad had seats, and their 3 yr old daughter pranced around on the fold-down tables and the baby laid/squirmed on mom's and my lap. They had redeeming qualitites though. They were extremely nice people and shared their food with me. The kids were just about the cutest kids I've ever seen in my life! (Cuter than Mexican babies, if you can believe that) Everyone was quick to smile, and even though we didn't share a language, we communicated well enough. Still, I am hoping on the way back to sit next to grown-ups.
So today I went to see the Ellora "caves". There are quotes because the caves are actually carved out of stone cliff faces. It was beautiful and amazing and extremely hot. It's really, really hot here. But I saw some nice stuff and took pictures to share with you all.

The first picture is me and a class of 4th? graders. The teacher saw me and made me stand with the kids so he could take a picture. Don't know if I've mentioned it, but I'm quite the oddity here in India. Everywhere I go, people stare at me and people ask me all the time if they can take their picture with me. I am not kidding! Unfortunately. It kinda makes you feel special, but it kinda makes you feel like a freak. Usually I say no to pictures, because they're always teenage and 20 something yr old men and I'm not really sure what they're doing with my picture (are they bragging to their friends that I was their girlfriend? Am I gonna end up on the internet?). It sounds egotistical and paranoid, but if you were a girl traveling by herself in India, you would understand what I'm talking about. Sometimes men and boys can be really rude and say some really gross things.
Anyway, back to the story. This is my first picture with complete strangers. I figured it was a teacher and his kids, so what the hell. Probably the first time they've ever seen a foreigner- sounds like a Kodak moment to me if I ever saw one.

Seven Buddhas supposedly in different poses.

This was cool. You can't really tell the height of it in the picture, but the buddha sitting is twice as tall as me standing. All the ribbed stuff on the ceiling is supposed to look like wood, and there are intricate carvings of stuff along the bottom of the ribs.

Whoever carved this one has never seen real breasts.

A picture of some of the caves from faroff with a dried up stinky pond in the foreground.

Lemonade stand outside of the cave area.

Weird random horse procession in the middle of the street. You gotta love India for moments like these.

I am here in Aurangabad for another day and then I head back to Mumbai to buy linen pants, drink city coffee, and watch Slumdog Millionaire. I was only in Mumbai for one night but so far I like it. The streets are wide and clean and people don't stare as much. When I get back there I will take lots of photos so everyone can see.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Udaipur Part 2

Fake Gladys.
Funny Hindi/English sign outside of a temple.
This is the guest house I've been staying at in Udaipur the last few days.
My pretty new hand- all the tourists get their hands henna'ed and it was just a matter of time until I succumbed. I'm happy to say though that I have not traded in my actual clothes for "tourists in India" clothes, like every other foreigner.
The peacock dance- I went to a Rajasthani dance thing. It was really cool. Hard to show how neat it was through a picture, but at least you get an idea of the beautiful Rajasthani clothes.
A temple thing decorated for yesterday's holiday (forgot the name, sorry).
Sign outside the Jain temple in Ranakpur. Please note that "revealing clothes" means any part of the leg and/or shoulders. If you wear shorts or capris, you have to rent a weird nightgown thing to wear over your clothes.
Inside the Jain temple.
Me and Pablo- a nice Spanish kid I met on the sleeper bus on the way to Udaipur.

Just a shot of a peaceful street in Udaipur.

Hello- I am still in Udaipur. It's my 5th day here but I am leaving on a night train to Bombay tonight. There are only trains to Bombay three times a week which is the real reason I have been in Udaipur for so long, although it is also very pretty and peaceful. I may have already mentioned it, but the town is wrapped around a lake which is pretty, kind of. The lake is half dried-up so there's a lot of smelly trash around the banks. If it were full, it would be really pretty. But it's only half-full, so it's ok.

I have done plenty while here in Udaipur. Mostly I have been laying around in the shade (it's really hot here) and reading. But- I have also explored the city far and wide on foot as well as scooter. That's right, I rented a scooter. I saw the shop and I went in to check prices- only 300 rupees (6 bucks) for a whole day of scooter! Then I thought about what a terrible idea it is to drive here because everyone here drives like a maniac. I still hadn't completely made up my mind when I got into the shop and the next thing I knew, I was scooting away. I got lost several times- really you could say that my adventure was just a series of getting lost. I got stuck in a traffic jam caused by a stubborn cow who wouldn't move out of the street. My hand started hurting because I haven't used a clutch in over 4 months. But it was fun! and I made it back to the shop in one piece.

Yesterday I took a day trip with a new friend to Ranakpur, to see the Jain temple out there. It is 3 hours away and in the middle of the desert. I didn't realize that there really is nothing else to see out there. The temple was pretty cool, though. It is made of marble and it is extremely ornately decorated with thousands of carvings of deities and animals and dancers. So pretty!

On the way home, I had the craziest bus ride of all time. I think something like this has to happen to everyone at least once in India. The bus heading back to Udaipur pulled up, and it was stuffed to the gills with people going to some festival. I managed to cram myself on there with five other people (not sure how) and we trundled off southward. I was being pushed in pretty much every direction, and my knees weren't lined up with my feet. At one point a little kid a couple of people away from me barfed because it was so hot and the road was windy. He couldn't help it but he puked all over some guys pants as well as the floor. These nice Indian ladies took a liking to me and kept talking to me in Hindi. I didn't understand a word that wasn't translated for me, but they were so nice and smiley. They invited me to their festival. I wish I could've joined them, but I was not about to get stuck out in the middle of the desert for the night.
After a while some guy passed out from the heat and all the bodies pushing. He looked like he was dead because his eyes didn't close and everyone freaked out, but they didn't stop the bus. Oh no! They stood him up and smacked him a couple times and eventually after some very interesting shuffling around, got him a seat.

Well, that is about it for now. More adventures in India to come later.

Oh yeah! If any of you faithful blog-readers wants something specific (and small) from India, send me an email telling me what it is so I can start to look for it. I haven't bought anything so far, because I can't really carry much, but I'm planning to start buying stuff in a few weeks when I'm around Darjeeling and Calcutta. If no requests, I'll probably just bring back a box of crap and let people choose from it. Sorry, but there is a lot of stuff here in India and while it is all cool to look at, almost none of it is actual useful in daily life. So anyways, let me know...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pushkar & Udaipur

Holy Cow!
Here's a horse all dressed up for a wedding parade. There were at least two weddings every night. There is a big procession of people walking through the streets, clogging up traffic, with a group of young men dancing in the middle and lots of people walking around them, small boys holding weird lanterns plugged into a very loud generator at the back, a band and loudspeakers, and a serious man (the groom?) sitting on a fancy horse.

A big Hindu shrine in Udaipur (above).
Below: all shots from the city palace in Udaipur. Udaipur was the Mewar capital. The Mewars are the only part of India that never caved in to the British.

Sun God

In case you haven't guessed it, I'm in Udaipur now after a couple days in Pushkar.
Pushkar was a small little place with a holy lake and lots of western tourists. It was a pretty relaxing place to hang out. I got to meet up with my friend Jody, who I met in Varanasi. On our first day we walked up a big hill to the Sunrise Temple. The temple itself wasn't much, but the view of Pushkar was great.
Last night I took my first sleeper bus (kind of gross- smelled like pee everywhere in the bus) to Udaipur. Surprisingly, I managed to get a little sleep, despite the frequent stops with families jumping on and making a big raucous each time. I have been keeping myself going with chai tea all day and will probably crash soon.
I plan to be here for a few days, then I start the move southward to the heat and humidity.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


this elephant is carved from a single stone. it's one of a set and is inside the city palace walls, in front of one of the great gates.

a silver urn, taller than me. it was made to hold holy water from the ganges river. it was the only water that the maharaja would use (for everything).

My favorite part of the city palace was a courtyard that has 4 gates, one to represent each season. This one with the peacocks represents summer, then you have monsoon, spring and winter.

The photos below are all from Amber Fort, north of Jaipur.

Hello from Jaipur! I have been here a few days and will leave tomorrow for Pushkar. I have mostly been taking it easy here, seeing a few sights, eating plenty of curry and naan, and resting. Jaipur is called the "Pink City" because the original part of the city is inside a walled area and the wall and all of it's buildings are painted pink. The architecture is really nice and in the center they have the City Palace Museum, which is where the maharaja lived, once upon a time. It is now a museum, which is great, because I was able to go in there and have a good look around.
Today I took a bus out to Amber Fort, which is about 11km north of Jaipur. It is set up in the hills and it is stunning. It's better than other forts I've seen so far, because it was actually used as a residence and not only a fort.
I am staying in a guest house in the new city (which is the expansion outside the pink city walls). It's pretty modern- there are stores like LaCoste and United colors of benetton- but it's still India, which chai shops, stands along the road, men randomly pissing in the street. Jaipur seems to have it's fair share of pushy sales people. I've been approached more than once in the last few days by men pretending to want to have a normal conversation for the sake of cultural exchange, claiming they're not selling anything, and then within 2 yards trying to sell me something. In the last couple of weeks I've gotten pretty good at feigning deafness, which sometimes makes me feel guilty, but is also a survival tool.
I have also met a few really great people. Like the guy working at the restaurant where I had dinner yesterday. When he found out I am half Hungarian, he told me that his first English teacher was a Hungarian guy. We had a really great conversation about Obama and the Indian government and crazy Indian guys in the street. Another was the bus driver on the way back from Amber Fort. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Hindi, but he was really set on making sure I knew when to get off and which direction to walk in. So for all the jerks that I meet, there is at least one great person.
India is really growing on me. When I first got here, it was a little too much for the senses. But as I get used to the craziness, I realize that I really like it.

Well, I'm off to Pushkar tomorrow. I will post pictures again soon. Hope everyone is enjoying the rain back home!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Hello from Varanasi! I arrived two days ago, and I loved it right away. The train ride was long and cold- I used all of my warm clothes to cover myself, and somehow i managed to sleep. I arrived to Allahabad at 5am, then went to book my onward ticket to Varanasi but the guy at the counter didn't understand and made me a ticket for right away. It worked out perfectly though, because I wasn't too keen on hanging out in Allahabad anyway, so I hopped into the ladies car of the next train.

I checked into my hotel, took my first hot shower in a few days, and went out to explore. The main attraction is the ghats along the Ganges River- these are the steps facing out toward the river. It is a major pedestrian thoroughfare and great for people watching.
The Ganga is very holy for Hindus, and everyday there are people bathing in it and washing clothes. If you die in Varanasi, you are very lucky because you will be released from the cycle of death and rebirth and you finally get to rest in peace. There are hospices around the ghats where people come to die. After they die, their body is covered in flowers and dipped in the Ganga. Then a funeral pyre is built on the banks and they are cremated. After about 3 hours, the oldest son puts the fire out with water from the Ganga and the ashes are spread in the river.
Yesterday I saw a few funeral processions and pyres.

In the old part of Varanasi on the other side of the ghats, there is a network of alleyways lined with homes, shops, restaurants and guest houses. It's pretty fun to wander around here and look at stuff. My guest house is in one of the alleys. You'd think you would get lost, but if you can find the river, you can always walk to the nearest ghat and take the steps up. From there, it's a familiar path.

These last few days I've been adjusting to India. I've been eating and walking as slowly as possible, trying to look around and take it all in. There are constantly people moving every which way, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. There are still a lot of touts trying to sell you stuff, but I am learning to feign deafness.
There are a lot of Korean tourists here in Varanasi. So far I have met only one American person, a guy who is from LA but now lives in China. There aren't a lot of solo travelers out here.

After Varanasi I am heading to the state of Rajasthan, which is supposed to be very beautiful. The guidebook says it's the picture perfect India that most people expect to see. I bought a shawl that can be used as a blanket for the 15 hour train ride, so it should be a bit more comfortable. Well I hope everyone back home is doing alright. I'll post pictures again soon!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Taj Mahal day

Here is a cow just randomly standing in the road. There are a few of them around town. They do whatever they want and people just move around them.
This is Agra's main hub. My hotel is around the corner from here.

A shot of the mosque within the Taj Mahal grounds.

There's me! in front of the Taj Mahal!! It looks fake, doesn't it? It is much more beautiful in real life than it is in this photo. The sky is kinda dirty so that doesn't help. The entire thing is made of marble bricks and when you get up close, you can see the amazing inlay work. Stones for the inlay were brought from all over Asia and the Middle East.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Agra Fort

50 rupees to anyone who can tell me what this is!

Giant bathtub, possibly used by an empress.

Hello, I'm in Agra now, home to the Taj Mahal. Sadly, the Taj is closed on Fridays so I will see it tomorrow, but today I walked over to the Agra Fort. It was built by an emperor in the 1500's and was the home to a Shah at one point. The grounds are really big, there is a lot of marble and red sandstone and it's really pretty. The Mughal emperor who had the Taj Mahal built for his wife was overthrown by one of his sons and imprisoned here at the fort where he eventually died. You can see the Taj Mahal from the fort (sort of, it's pretty smoggy) and the trusty guidebook says that he spent his last days "gazing wistfully at his Taj Mahal".

The room where I'm staying is larger than the last one, but there are a lot of mosquitoes. I spent the better part of yesterday evening murdering them one by one with my hefty guidebook. There is a nice rooftop with a view of the Taj though, so I can't complain too much.

Tomorrow evening I will take an 11 1/2 train ride to Allahabad. I requested a lower berth this time, because I had an upper berth on the last trip and it was comfortable for the first couple of hours, then I just really wanted to sit up without crouching. Or look out a window.
Maybe tomorrow I will have time to post pictures of the Taj Mahal, since there isn't much to do in Agra. I walked around town today and there are a lot of cows and pregnant dogs, monkeys climbing all over everything, dirt roads and rickshaw drivers. I did have a fantastic banana lassi yesterday and will probably have another later on today.

I think I am adjusting to India. When I first got here, I was a little overwhelmed with culture shock. Now that I'm a few days in, I can reflect and see that is what was going on with me. Traveling in India isn't so different from traveling in South America, actually. The one huge difference is that I can't speak Hindi, but then lots of folks speak English.

Well, I hope everyone likes the photos. I will try to put some of the Taj Mahal tomorrow.

Cities I've Visited