The long awaited, journal entry #3 (make sure you are caught up!)
*Originally written June 5, 2016*
May 30 – June 5
A word before I begin,
I set out to keep these journal entries lighthearted and informal so that those of you back home could see my honest reactions and emotions throughout my trip. However, a trade-off of this is that sometimes people misinterpret my, albeit slightly sarcastic, sense of humor. So to clarify, while I did misjudge my relationship with Deeksha and the Yadav’s the idea that if I had spent another hour with them I would be a married man is ridiculous in any culture, including India’s. My situation was likely much more akin to a “crush” than a literal verbal marriage proposal and I apologize for this misconception as one or two of my friends messaged me firmly believing I was almost engaged. Deeksha will forever be a close friend and I owe her family a debt that I do not currently have the ability to repay. Truly, trusting Deeksha was a stupid move. She could easily have been a scout, looking for the most handsome, dashing, and suave American that she could rob once she got to Delhi. But seriously, things could have gone downhill soooo quickly considering Deeksha’s advice, “If a person in India wants to talk to you, they are trying to get your money”. But this act of complete trust in a time of need is an experience that will forever hold a place in my heart. An act that took guts, faith, and a healthy dose swag. (If you’re over 30 you can think of Swag as similar to Game, or Style. If none of that rings a bell you’re over the hill and you should stop commenting on your child’s facebook wall. Enjoy the silver years.)
Now that we have that cleared up,
The last time I wrote we were en route to Jaipur the “Pink City” of jewels. Famous also as a source of the marble used in the Taj Mahal. Upon arriving we were absolutely delighted to be greeted by another 110-degree day. We set about exploring and soon located the famed Amber Fort. Not only a regional treasure, but the jewel of an ancient dynasty and a certified UNESCO World Heritage site. This place is a fort, but it also houses a monastery, temple, and palace within its mountain-top structure. The inner walls are filled with beautiful frescos of civilizations past and the sprawling mountain range encircling the compound is lined by a wall resembling the great wall of China. A garden, watered by spring water, sits at the center of the elaborate and sprawling mountain compound with two nearby rooms that are covered completely in mirrors and gold. This immense beauty, elaborate architecture, and stunning placement is all possible because of slave labor. Marble, granite, jewels, carried and chiseled by slaves to be part of a magnificent dynasty that eventually fell. A dynasty that left only its shiny façade and not its seedy underbelly in the minds of of those who visit the Amber Fort.
After sweating half to death atop the Amber colored wonder we drove into Jaipur and began the two-hour long search for our hotel. It was worth the wait. AC, Wi-fi, marble, tile, and a spacious room for 3 for one quarter of what a super 8 motel room would cost in America. It hasn’t ceased to amaze me how the most beautiful parts of India are nestled in some of the dirtiest and disheveled parts of the country. Later that night we made a trip to the Jaipur markets where we haggled our way into some silk and cotton clothes that we could wear for the duration of our journey. Having a travel buddy whose research project revolves around silk has been fascinating and while I may share what I have learned from him later on, I don’t want to steal his thunder so please check out Aaruran’s blog as well.
A quick word on bartering, it is vicious. An easy way to barter is to counter with ¼ of the offered price and eventually settle for slightly less than ½. This sounds easy but is almost impossible. When looking at a wallet that I could tell was fake leather I had it forcibly shoved into my face by a vendor who was adamant that it was real. Removing the item, which also tasted suspiciously like plastic, from my mouth I was forced to employ the dangerous bluff of walking away until the man called for me to come back and renegotiate.
After walking away from the Battle of Bartering feeling victorious we stumbled upon the one of the most amazing and adorable animals in the world. ELEPHANTS. Painted in bright and electrifying Holi paint the elephants looked majestic. Needless to say Madi and I were intent on riding them. I calmly stepped forward and began the difficult task of bartering. Nearing victory, I reached forward to shake the man’s hand when Madi (unaware of what was happening) made an offer not only higher than what I was about to settle for, but roughly 1 US dollar cheaper than the original price.
She was teased for the duration of the trip.
At first, the Elephant stubbornly rocked back on its legs in what I assume was a protest of such porcelain covered passengers. But finally, after being incentivized with sugar cane, the Elephant marched forward signifying that it was doing this job not because it was being told to but because it wanted to. A clever strategy it shares with my sister. Climbing up the trunk of the behemoth, a small Indian man began steering the animal using only his feet. Madi and I clung on for dear life and laughed at the comical “Hollywood” romanticism that the driver seemed to convey, prompting me to turn to Madi with a smirk and say, “We’ll always have India.” in my dreamiest voice. Unfortunately, the line didn’t translate well and the driver thought us “mental” the Indian equivalent of crazy.
As we drove back to the hotel we witnessed an electrical transformer that had caught fire with no one attending the growing blaze. At a loss for words we simply used a phrase that had become common for such occurances that were witnessed by our party, “Welcome to India”. Later we were guided through construction by police until we reached a dead end blocked by a construction barrier. Our driver was removed from the car by police carrying FN FAL assault rifles and forced to pay 200 Rupees in order to pass. Why? Maybe the policeman wanted a nice dinner that night, maybe he needed a bottle of champagne to celebrate with his family, he might have simply noticed my white skin sitting shotgun in the car. Whatever the reason, you don’t mess with the police in India. Even when they prove to be as much of a racket as United Airlines.
The next morning, we left early hoping to have time to explore Delhi. On the way I booked an airplane ticket from Goa to Bangalore so that I could travel with my friends since Aaruran had changed the schedule during my plane fiasco (Don’t let Aaruran book an itinerary). After reaching Delhi we entered the airport only to find that in India, once you enter an airport, you cannot leave. So we spent a peaceful 6 hours sitting in an airport licking the wounds in our pride as we awaited the plane that would take us to Goa.
We arrived at our new digs and my jaw immediately dropped. To give some perspective, Goa is the California of India. Where the rich go to vacation, unwind, and party. Needless to say, our two bedroom, full kitchen, with showers (SHOWERS!!), added veranda, scenic villa did not disappoint. Totaling in at around 100$ US for 3 people for 3 nights, we were living like kings on a budget for surfers. I woke up early the next morning as the sun rose and cooked breakfast for the gang while saving time for some meditation and music. I was greeted by an incredible view from our veranda of animals grazing in a vast jungle rice paddy with birds perched atop their backs and an orange temple off in the distance. I was also greeted by a small Gecko who had found his way into the apartment and was in need of a friend. I named him Sam. Not wanting to misinterpret relationship for a second time this trip, I explained my situation as a single traveler to Sam by ushering him off of the wall with an oven mitt.
That day we had lunch at a famous Goan restaurant named Emancio’s and headed to a sprawling market where we fiercely haggled yet again. Madi braved her hatred of the fish stands located intermittently throughout the market to find last minute gifts for friends at home. Aaruran drooled at the textiles hanging from every stall and attempted conversations about their source within the country (quite a feat considering the language barrier). Meanwhile, I made sure our handsome trio didn’t get lost amidst the maze of meats, treats, and fabrics that saturated us in vibrant smells and color.
Emerging unscathed we trekked to a church established by the Portuguese influence where Aaruran and I took in the golden interior as Madi angrily waited outside, banned because she had foregone pants under her dress. Feeling chipper and blessed due to a frigid 90 degree day Madi and Ruru, as he had taken to being called, bought fresh vegetables and I scoured a meat market claiming ownership of roughly 4.4 pounds of beef from a freshly killed cow for about the same price as an Easy Mac box.
Returning home, Madi and I set to work deveining fresh prawns, chopping vegetables, mixing spices, and cooking meat in order to prepare an Indian version of the Dutch/Indonesian dish Nasi Goreng. Ruru made rice.
With the cooking finished we sat down and I mustered the courage to take a bite with flashbacks of my first meal still in my mind. After eating we all agreed the meat had a slightly parasitic taste to it and we immediately rushed to a hospital and swore of off risky behavior in a foreign country for the rest of the trip (Kidding, we’re still dumb). All in all, the meal was a success and we fell asleep to the frequent loss of power that plagues even the nicest parts of India.
I rose early the net morning and set about breakfast for the two older college kids who have perfected the art of sleeping in. I can only hope to achieve such glory someday in the future, considering I am the only freshman in SiSA this year. We spent the day exploring churches and visiting the beach which was polluted to a truly sad level. I checked another ocean off of my list as I felt the surprisingly warm water of the Indian ocean rush across my feet.
After a brief ice cream interlude, we cooked the remaining 3 pounds of beef with a combo of one hour in the oven and one hour on the stove before we made a late night trek to the airport. Landing in Bangalore/Bengaluru at around 3 AM we made our way to my train station where I made the brilliant discovery that I was 12 hours early. I maintain that Ruru and I both looked at the website without realizing this error in military vs. standard time but I will admit that my travelling savvy was in that moment, sub par. As a woman walked into the middle of the street and peed in front of us, we calmly averted our eyes and began the search for our bed which would house three instead of a planned two.
Crashing in the apartment of Aaruran’s friend’s friend (again, don’t let him make an itinerary) I took the floor as punishment for an hour of lost sleep spent chasing imaginary trains, and we snuggled into a room the size of a spacious walk in closet. In the morning we were greeted with tea and biscuits which might sound slightly healthy but is in fact, not. Biscuits in India are cookies, and I could not be happier that this mistranslation has arisen as my consciousness feels no guilt in eating biscuits whenever I get the chance. Setting off in an auto-rickshaw or Tuk-tuk as they are called, we careened through the city on an uninsured rollercoaster that dropped us off outside the shelter which Madi had volunteered at.
Stepping inside she was greeted by the screams of dozens of children with smiles that made me jealous of Madi’s time in India. We were fed, given a dance recital, read to, shown around, and badly beaten in paddy-cake all in quick succession. After a few hours I knew it was time for me to leave, but I simply didn’t want to go. Standing up from a young girl who was reading to me about the scientific properties of Eucalyptus (one of the donated books in the newly created library at the shelter) we got all of the children together and pulled out the University of Michigan flag for a photo full of smiles, laughter, and lice.
Three of the young girls walked us to an actual American-esque supermarket were I bought my favorite brand of biscuits (Jim Jam’s) and said goodbye to my two travel companions.
I have spent a week with two people. One visionary, one activist. Both abnormal in these respective areas, but both exceedingly talented, incredibly independent, and undoubtedly bound for success. The only thing the three of us had in common at first was a school and a country. But I doubt we will forget each other or these experiences any time soon. To my friends; thank you for showing me different ways of looking at the world. I think we all rubbed off on each other in formative and very positive ways. Keep an air conditioner running for me when I get back to America.
I leave today on a 36 hour train ride north that will take me to another 3 hour train which will deposit me in Bhind. This is where my real work will begin. During the journey I will reside in both the lowest and highest class that Indian trains have to offer so be ready for an interesting comparison in the future. Tonight I am dry, fed, and clothed. That’s more than much of this country has.
Adieu, Adieu, to you and you and you.