Saturday, October 20, 2007

Namaste and Good luck

I think I will mention that this is the first blog where you get my actual journal without anything cut out. My reflections aren’t included here, but they never really are. I hope you enjoy what I saw in and of India.

India was by far the most intense, physically and mentally demanding experience of my life. It was dusty, beautiful, heartbreaking, filthy, spiritual, intriguing, infuriating, frustrating, terrifying, moving, humbling, inspiring, polluted, and so much more. Someone once told me that whatever you can say about India, the opposite is also true. I could never make sense of the statement before the last 5 days, but now it seems the only way to describe it. India both defeated me and built me up at the same time.

Some background information on India:
It has 3 times the population of the U.S. in an area 1/3 the size.
People are born into castes, which is to say they are born into their job, their life circumstance without any way to change it. If your father was a Dalit, you are a Dalit, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Chennai, where we made port, is the 4th largest city in India by population.
There are over 50 different languages spoken in India.
Hinduism is the most popular religion, practiced by over 80% of the population, followed by Islam and then Christianity.
Hinduism is one of the world’s most tolerant religions, but still follows the caste system, which discriminates against some of its own practitioners.

I loved experiencing India, but I was unbelievably glad when it was time to be able to get on the ship.

The 6 days between Thailand and India were filled with classes and midterms and papers. It was very uneventful. I spent way too much time studying, and was glad when the global studies exam was finally over, because it marked the end of midterm-palooza.

I also wanted to say hi to Megan’s parents, because she told me that you like to read my blog. So Hi Megan’s parents!

Oct. 15, 2007
“Uhhh, that guy with the gun. I’m gonna do what he says.”
Chennai, Delhi, and Agra, India

The morning started by getting up at 7 to the smell of burning tires in the hallways of the 4th deck. Welcome to India. I went up to the 7th deck to watch the ship pull in with Ashley and Tim. When Megan got there we went to breakfast. We were joined by the usuals. After breakfast I came back to my room to pack for my trip to Agra and Varanasi. I made plans to meet up with Ashley and Megan for lunch, but this actually never happened. When lunch rolled around the ship was cleared and we were allowed to pick up our passports. Ashley and Megan’s sea was called right as we were supposed to meet and then my sea was called next. They didn’t wait for Laura, Lindsey and me, so the lunch rendezvous didn’t actually happen, though Megan ate her dessert with us while we were eating our dinner.

I was going on a student organized trip to Agra and Varanasi that left at 2:45, so there wasn’t really a lot of time in between being cleared and meeting. I didn’t want to risk not being able to make it back to the ship, so I didn’t leave the port. I did want to meet Madu, the rickshaw driver that Megan had told me about, so I went out to the area where the drivers were lined up, but I couldn’t find him. I came back to the ship and waited for time to meet the group. While I was waiting, Lindsey, who was also waiting for her trip to leave, joined me in my room to watch a movie. When the time for me to leave rolled around and I hurried out to meet the group. I was so excited to be able to finally get India started. The instructions on where to meet were a little vague, but in the end the group all found each other.

We were supposed to have a bus waiting for us outside of the ship to take us to the airport, but it wasn’t there. One of the SAS buses shuttled us to the gate of the port where we were given a really hard time by port police. We were all told that we needed to sign some book to be able to leave and show our customs declaration form. About this time our bus showed up and the driver got out and got us all cleared to go through without the hassle, but as soon as the guys faded from view, all of the girls were given the same hard time. I escaped just behind the guys, but all the girls after me took forever to get through. We thought that we were really pushing it to make it to the airport on time, but we got there with no problem. We weren’t really surprised when the airport was full of SASers trying to get to Delhi. Going through security at the airport was an interesting for me. Women and men got split into separate lines. The check point that women went through was hidden behind these curtain type things to keep people from seeing security officers doing patdowns on women who set off the metal detector. The underwire in my bra set it off, and the officer waved the little wand sensor around me and it was just my chest area that was beeping. She acted like she couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so I got a pat down that would have qualified as sexual harassment in the U.S. After the security groping incident I found a place that sold the most amazing chocolate chip cookies, and then got on the plane to Delhi.

The plane was the first flight I’ve taken on this trip that wasn’t turbulent. I sat next to a man from Chennai who was going to Delhi on business and a Japanese man who was most likely schizophrenic. There was some interesting music playing before we actually took off and the man from Chennai laughed when he noticed I was tapping my foot to it. I smiled at him, and he pointed to his foot that he was tapping as well. The flight was 2.5 hours. I had started writing a couple of postcards on the flight, and I accidentally flipped my pen at the Indian man next to me. It just made him laugh a lot and he started talking to me. It made the flight go by so fast. We talked about everything from religion to war to movies. We talked a lot about the reasons the divorce rate is so high in the west and so low in India. He had some interesting thoughts and was actually pretty straightforward about what happens to an Indian women after the dissolution of a marriage. I enjoyed the conversation, but I was really happy to get to Delhi. We boarded our bus and found out that we were taking an overnight bus to Agra rather than taking the train. We were still waiting on people to get there from another flight, so Kristen and I went back into the airport to go to the bathroom and get some pizza. The security guy was hesitant to let us back in, but didn’t really put up much of a fight to keep us from going. He just bobbled his head.

The group decided they wanted to stop and get some food on the way to Agra since it was going to be 3 hours until we got there. The tour guide stopped in a very shady area of Delhi. About 6 girls (including myself) didn’t get off the bus, and everyone else followed the tour guide to a rest stop. After a very long time the group hadn’t made it back to the bus so one of the girls very stupidly decided that she would like to go look for them. This was ridiculously retarded because we had no idea where we were and we were in an area that in no way appeared to be anything even close to safe. The other 4 girls decided that they were going too, and I didn’t want to be the only person that stayed behind, so I went as well. One of the other girls and I decided that it was just too ridiculous for us to be out so we turned back and went to the bus. As we got back to the bus the rest of the group was getting back. We started to Agra, and the guide said it should be about 3 hours. It took 5. It was the bumpiest bus ride I have ever been on in my life. We finally got to Agra at 2 am and checked into our hotel. There were 2 beds in the room and then a mat on the floor. I got the mat on the floor and went to sleep so that I could be up for sunrise at the Taj the next day.

Oct. 16, 2007
“It’s your fault…they’re the illiterate masses.”
Agra, India/en route to Varanasi

We got up really early to get to the Taj, but a few people stayed back at the hotel to sleep because they knew we were going back to the Taj for sunset. While I was waiting for everyone in the lobby the tour guide for the day had shown up and was questioning me about where our “trip leader” was. There was no real trip leader, just the guy who organized the plans. He hadn’t shown up yet and I knew he was getting ready, but the tour guide was basically a prick and he was just generally not nice to me after I couldn’t tell him how to find Ray. When everyone who was going showed up, we boarded the bus. On the bus ride there, the tour guide informed us that admission fees were not included in the package that we had, even though we had been told that they were. Most, if not all, of us were going to be short on cash because of this. It cost 750 rupees just to get into the Taj. It was $20 none of us had planned on spending because we were told that it was covered. At this point, none of us were willing to pay the 750 rupees again at sunset, so we just paid up for sunrise. We had to take a bus from our bus to the Taj, and when it let us off there weren’t many street vendors out yet. The ones that were out were just selling postcards.

The Taj itself was beautiful. Pictures don’t do it justice. Our tour guide was still being pretty pompous and he was getting really frustrated that we were all taking pictures instead of listening to him, but we basically paid twice to be able to see it since it was supposed to be in the package and somehow wasn’t anymore, so since we paid twice, we did what we wanted. We weren’t on time; we didn’t really care to listen to him tell us things that we either already knew or didn’t care to hear to begin with. I got stopped a lot to take pictures with little kids. The people that stopped me here were really nice and appreciative that we were willing to stop and take pictures. On the way out there were a few things I needed to buy from street vendors, but the pompous tour guide yelled at me when I went to check it out. There really wasn’t a chance for me to get what I needed. It was really upsetting, but I couldn’t really argue with the tour guide successfully. He wasn’t very receptive of me to begin with.

We went back to the hotel for breakfast (which was not good). The part of the group that didn’t go to the Taj with us for sunrise joined us for breakfast. We left for some ‘sightseeing’ that included going to the tour company office to settle some payment issues, an overpriced carpet shop, and an overpriced marble shop. There was literally nothing in any of the shops that I could afford to buy. The prices were so inflated it was insane. For a magnet they wanted 300 rupees ($7.50), and this was after haggling. The street vendors found our bus outside of the shops. I was so excited that there were things that I was able to afford (and that I wanted to buy originally) that I went bargaining crazy. I had such a good time doing it. We went back to the hotel for lunch after what seemed to be a waste of a morning. The hotel lunch was equally as crappy as the breakfast was. The tour company operator showed up and announced that we all had to pay an extra fee of $45. Ray got it down to $40, but I’m still not sure what the extra fee was for. I’m not really sure that any of us do. I didn’t have a lot of cash left, so I asked if I could pay by credit card. The guy told me that I could, but that there would be a 3% charge on the 1700 rupees I needed to pay, and that the total would be 2700 rupees. I guess he thought I must have been a moron, but I’m actually able to figure out that 3% of 1700 doesn’t amount to 1000. I heard from someone on the trip that there was a place nearby where you could use your credit card to get money rather than an ATM, so I thought I’d check it out. I got money there with no problem.

The guys who missed the Taj in the morning went after they ate lunch and then met us at Agra Fort after they were done. The outside of the fort had one of the worst smells I have ever been able to sense. It smelled like a mixture of rotten eggs, feces, wet dog, and something that I can’t quite figure out. I was overjoyed when I found out that we got to wait there for the guys that went to the Taj. While we were waiting, a bunch of Indian people were taking our pictures and posing for pictures in front of us. The girls in my group, myself included, were getting really strange leering looks from most of the men who took our pictures, but we mostly ignored it. Once we finally got to go into the fort, the people taking our pictures persisted to the point that we were starting to sprint away from them. The Indian men had started grabbing the girls and basically groping anyone that they could get their hands on. We told our tour guide about it in an attempt to get him to do something about it, and he told us that it was our fault, just to deal with it. This pissed me off beyond ridiculous amounts. We started to stick really close together, and for this brief period it seemed like the guys in our group were doing a better job at keeping an eye out for us. We got to an area of the fort that was swarming with rabid monkeys. On the side where there were no monkeys, the same men that had been harassing us were waiting. It was a tough decision: rabid monkeys or men who went out of their way to grab whatever part of my/any other girl in my group’s body that they could. I had been immunized against rabies but not against asshole men, so I took the monkey route. I got through unharmed, which I am not sure would have been the case if I had gone the other way. On the way out one of the men who had been harassing me was mad at me for staying away from him, and told me that no one who would ever want to marry me because I was so fat. It was very nice of him to let me know so that I can whip myself into shape. Glad for the info. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not nearly as small as most of the Asian women I have seen are, but in the U.S., I’m not fat. I’m not even chubby. If I don’t get married, I’m sure that the reason won’t have anything to do with my size, but I do appreciate the opinion of Mr. Grabby, who seemed to enjoy grabbing my body despite the fact that I am ‘fat.’

Much to my delight, when we left there were more street vendors to bargain with. I got some more things, and then the whole group headed back to the hotel where we were dropped off until it was time to leave for the train. We were really near a Pizza Hut, so I went with 3 other girls. A significant portion of the group set off into Agra to find liquor for the train ride to Varanasi. I just enjoyed dinner. We got a really nice note from our waiter telling us how much he enjoyed taking care of us. When we boarded the bus to go to the train station, we found out that Ray still hadn’t worked out paying the tour company, and that he was at the official office to pay the tour operators. We went to the office to pick him up and we finally got the payment situation all sorted out. The train station in Agra was the first thing in the entire voyage that made me physically sick. There were so many people sleeping in the ‘lobby.’ The smell was just putrid. There were rats crawling everywhere and nasty dogs just roaming around. The tracks were piled with garbage. I was really worried about what our train was going to be like after seeing the station.

We were taking what was supposed to be an 11 hour overnight train ride to Varanasi. The train actually wasn’t bad, at least the first class cars that we were in. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in any of the other cars. We were in the same section of the car as this amazing family from Spain. We got to talk to them about where to go while we’re there. They sold me on the idea of going to Barcelona, but I’m not sure that I can afford it this time around. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to make it back. They did give me a list of things to do in Sevilla, Grenada, and Cordoba and recommended a few places to eat for tapas. They were so nice that they shared their food with all of the girls who were in the car with us and the next morning they let us each have a bindi to wear.

Oct. 17, 2007
“Camel bone. It’s the new elephant tusk.”
Varanasi, India

We were supposed to arrive in Varanasi around 8:30. I woke up early enough to ensure that I didn’t miss it. I ate the pop tarts that I had brought with me while I waited to get there, but we just kept stopping at stations that weren’t Varanasi. Finally, the tour guide that was with the Spanish family asked when we were actually going to get to Varanasi and he was told that it was going to be 11:00. This didn’t actually prove to be true. We arrived at noon. I had brought pop tarts with me, and when our train took as long as it did, I was very glad to have them. The tour guide on the bus told us that there were two very important things to see while we were in Varanasi. The first was Sarnath, which is the site where Buddha preached his first sermon. The second was an early morning boat ride on the Ganga. We thought that this meant these were included in our trip, but we were wrong to assume such. When Ray asked about it, we had to argue for the boat ride that was promised originally, but ended up getting that. We could have gone to Sarnath at an extra cost, but not a lot of people really wanted to. I was little disappointed, but by this point my expectations for India were really low, so it wasn’t a big deal.

We got to the hotel by bus, but caused a lot of traffic problems by doing so. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and as such wasn’t designed for motor vehicles. Our giant tourist bus took up a lot of space on the roads. There is a point in the city where you aren’t allowed to have motor vehicles, but that was much closer to the Ganga than our hotel was. We got lunch at the hotel and then split up to do whatever we felt like for the afternoon. I joined Jenn, Kate, and Kat to go to a market near the cremation ghat. Jenn and I shared a rickshaw, and I was in for what was the most terrifying experience of my life. One of the cows that was laying the road decided to move and this disrupted traffic in a major way. Our rickshaw hit a banana cart and then immediately after we were hit by a motorbike and another rickshaw behind us. I have no idea how, but the girl that I was with and myself got out of the incident without a scratch. At this point Jenn and I really wanted to hold on to each other, but in India women aren’t really allowed to be seen showing any public signs of affection to other people, and this would have included holding onto Jenn.

I was so glad to finally get out of the rickshaw. We were let out at the beginning of the street, not quite at the market, but not very far away either. We had vendors following us the whole way to the market. They weren’t really the aggressive type we had seen in Agra; they were much more personable. I think it was just part of their sham to get people to buy from them. It’s not really a style that I like, and I think that it’s kind of the point. They’re so nice to you that it can make you feel bad to not buy or try to bargain really hard with them. The followed us down the street, and most of them weren’t actually trying to sell us anything; they just wanted us to go into their shops. They found as at the beginning of the street and walked with us until we passed their shop. We did find a really cool bead shop and I got bracelet made out of camel bone. There was a big festival going on in Varanasi, and the shopkeeper had a shrine set up in the shop, so you had to take your shoes off to go in. We found a little alleyway to wonder down that I think was the market we were trying to get to begin with. There were police with giant rifles sitting outside of the entrance to the market, but at this point we were used to the people walking around with giant rifles everywhere. The market was full of great shops and bargaining there was easy. Most of the shopkeepers said that it was close to the end of the festival and they hadn’t made nearly as much money as they usually did, so we got things pretty cheaply just because they wanted to sell to us. It might have been a lie just to get us to buy, but things were much cheaper here than anywhere else I had been in India, so I just kind of went with it. I got a really cool, huge batik of Ganesh for a little less than a dollar. The people in the shops were much nicer than most of the people that we had been dealing with for all of our time in India, so the four us were really enjoying just being able to shop without anyone harassing us in anyway. We were each actually blessed by a brahmin while we were shopping.

We decided to split up after the market because Kate and Kat wanted to go see an Indian movie and Jenn and I really didn’t want to. One of the vendors from the market told us that we were really close to the cremation ghat and that cremation ceremonies were going on if we wanted to watch them, that it was only a five minute walk away. Jenn and I wanted to go because, but we weren’t really sure if we wanted to let this guy lead us on a wild goose chase and end up getting ourselves in a bad situation. We decided to let him take us, but if it got sketchy to turn around and go back. I think there were a few moments when we were really regretting going, but we got to the ghat just fine. We went up to the rooftop of a building and there was someone up there who gave us information about what was going on and who was allowed to be cremated and why women weren’t allowed to be present at the cremation of a person and everything we wanted to know. At this point, we knew that while this was ‘free’ we were going to be asked for money. The guide told us that only men our allowed at the ceremonies because women cry and crying taints the soul of the person who died, and they can’t get into Heaven. There are 5 types of people who aren’t allowed to be cremated. The first are brahmins. They aren’t cremated because they are considered to be already pure, and they are allowed to be buried rather than burned. The second is children because they are innocent. Pregnant women can’t be cremated because they are carrying the innocent. Lepers aren’t cremated, but I’m not sure of the reason. Children, pregnant women, and lepers are allowed to be weighted down and have their body thrown into the river. The last type of person that can’t be cremated is a snake bite victim. If a person dies from a snake bite, they are poisoned and can’t be put into the river because they don’t want the poison to corrupt the holy river. The ceremony for a person to be cremated requires the body to be wrapped in gold or yellow fabric (if it‘s a man, I don‘t know what color a female‘s covering is), then the body is taken into the river for purification. The head of the person to be cremated must be shaved by a family member. If the father dies, the eldest son shaves the head. If it is a woman, her husband or youngest son shave her head. The body is put on the fire and burned for anywhere from an hour to three hours. Some parts of the body’s bones don’t burn. The ashes are put into the river. Dead cows are weighted down and put in the river, but Jenn and I actually saw one floating down the Ganga during one of the cremation ceremonies. It was a very interesting thing to see take place, and our the man giving the information was excellent, so I had planned to give him money anyway, but on our way out of the building there were two women trying to get money so that people who came to Varanasi to die but had no money for the cremation ceremony could afford to be cremated. The man who had given us all the information told us to be blessed by the women and then give them money. He was very adamant about it, so I had assumed that some of this money went to him also. Jenn and I each donated enough money for wood for one person’s cremation, but the man was very insistent about having more than that. Both of us really didn’t have much more we could afford to give, especially because I was without an ATM card and had to make what little I had left last for the rest of the time in India. Wood for two people was a pretty generous donation, at least I thought so, considering we were promised it was going to be free. When we left the man wanted money for himself, but again, we just didn’t have it to give him. He told us that it was going to give us bad karma if we didn’t give anything, and I asked him what type of karma it would give him to tell someone that they could have free information and then demand money from them. He left us alone and the vendor that brought us there in the first place took us back to the market, and we got a rickshaw back to the hotel. He too tried to guilt us into buying more from him, but I had actually planned to buy something he was selling anyway. We got him to reduce his price by a lot, and then got back to the hotel.

The rickshaw driver kept turning around to talk to us, but I really didn’t want to encourage this, so I didn’t say much back to him. I just nodded, which I’m not sure he really understood. I still don’t understand the whole head bobbling thing. He asked me if I was English, and I just said “yeah” so he would turn back around and he started saying, “Oh, I love Englanders!” He was so happy just because he thought we were from England. When we got back to the hotel, Jenn had already gotten out of the rickshaw, and I was in the process, but before I could get out, the driver lifted up his pants/skirt thing that I don’t know what it’s called to show me his warts. He did it to get more money out of us, but it was really disgusting. He was telling me that he didn’t know what they were or how he got them, and he had to get them cut off, so please pay him extra. I thought about telling him where he got them from, but I didn’t really want to explain STDs to him, so we just paid him the original, agreed upon price and went back to the hotel.

One of my roommates had the key to my hotel room, and Jenn’s roommates had her key, so we went to the front desk to try to get them to let us in our rooms. Jenn was told someone would let her into her room with no problem, but I was told there was no possible way that I could get into my room. The guy at the front desk told us to go wait in front of Jenn’s room, and someone would be there to let us in shortly. While we were waiting up there the power got cut to the hotel. It was freaky because we didn’t know at this point that the power in Varanasi got cut for at least 5 hours everyday. The power to the hotel flipped back on after a few minutes, and then the guy arrived to let us into Jenn’s room. He had a master key, so I asked him to let me into my room, and he did with no problem. I got my first (and only) shower the entire time I was in India. You can imagine that I really needed one at this point. I got a quick one, because I knew that the water for the shower was most likely coming from the Ganga, and I had just been there and seen the dead bodies being washed in it and the dead cow floating in it, and I knew that was where the sewage goes. I couldn’t really enjoy my shower thinking about that. I met Jenn and we went to have a really late dinner with the rest of the group at the hotel. Dinner wasn’t all that great, but there was some good naan and masala. I went to bed after dinner because the power was out in parts of the city and we were leaving the hotel at 5:30 am the next morning for our boat ride on the Ganga.

October 18, 2007
“The most important thing is that we should all do as much good for our fellow humans as we can while we’re here. The rest isn’t really in our hands.”
Varanasi, Delhi, and Chennai, India

I got up at 5 to get ready for our boat ride on the river, and since I was awake, the girls in my room were also. We went down to the lobby and no one else was there. After a few minutes four more people showed up, but that was it. We asked the front desk if they had given people their wake up calls and they said they weren’t making calls until 5:30, which was when we were actually supposed to leave. We went around to all of the rooms and started waking everyone up, and got out of the hotel as quickly as we could. We walked to our bus, which was a little ways away and headed as close to the ghat as we were allowed to. We walked to the ghat and we were hounded by street vendors as we went. When we got to where we were able to board our boat, we saw the vendor that took us to the cremation ceremony the day before. He tried to sell Jenn and I more, but we really didn’t need or want anything else that he was selling.

Several children selling flowers and candles got onto the boat with us, trying to get us all to buy one to make a wish and put them on the river. They were only 5 rupees, so I got one. We were told the only that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of were the two cremation ghats. People were snapping a lot of pictures of the people bathing in the river, and you could see on their faces that it was making them very uncomfortable. I heard a guide on another boat tell the people in that boat not to take pictures of the people bathing because they thought it was rude. Some other people heard this and stopped taking pictures, but just as many continued snapping pictures whenever we felt like it. We got to the cremation ghats and we were told that we were absolutely not allowed to take pictures there, but people did it anyway, just to prove that they could. I thought it was really disrespectful. A guy on the boat was trying to get people to give him money to just jump into the Ganga. We weren’t next to the shore; we were out in the middle where they put the bodies they don’t cremate. I think jumping in the river just for the heck of it would have been stupid (the river is filled with garbage and untreated sewage, and people who died of leprosy and people that couldn’t afford to be cremated) and really disrespectful. I was really glad that he didn’t do it. The tour guide on the boat talked about the types of people who aren’t cremated, and he gave some different reasons than I had heard the night before. The reasons for the night before were much more believable. He said snake bite victims and pregnant women aren’t cremated because they believe there is a chance they will return to life and be able to come home. They are often weighted down with their addresses. A pregnant woman is hoped to give birth after death, and the infant return to its home. A sort of “market boat” floated up to us selling souvenirs, but no one was buying anything from him. He stayed for around 5 minutes and no one had bought a single thing. It’s a fact when you’re bargaining that if you wait a while and no one is buying, you can get some excellent prices, so I jumped at the opportunity. I spent a total of 200 rupees and got presents for 3 people, plus 3 things that I wanted. When I got things so cheap, other people were really interested in buying things, but since there was a lot of interest now, people couldn’t get things as cheap anymore. After the boat ride, we were continuously hassled all the way back to the bus by vendors. They were much more aggressive than any I had seen in Varanasi, and it made me really uncomfortable. One of the vendors started grabbing me like the men in Agra did, so I grabbed the guy in front of me, and he pretended to be my husband and got the man to leave me alone. There was a little girl begging that followed us all the way to the bus, but no one gave her any money because we had all been warned that parents maim their children on purpose to get money from tourists. None of us wanted to encourage that. After we had all gotten onto the bus, I saw the little girl get yelled at by her mother because she hadn’t gotten any money from us. The tour guide came onto the bus with all kinds of items from the vendors trying to help sell them. I wasn’t really surprised, but it was the first time that I had experienced a tour guide trying to help them sell to us.

After we got on the bus we were promised a city tour. I don’t think you can really call it that. What we really did was go to Banares Hindu University and see a Hindu Temple there. We went back to the hotel for breakfast, which was among the worst meals I’ve ever had. I would rank it lower than the ox tongue I ate in Cambodia. The only thing I even touched was toast that was so hard if you dropped it too roughly on your plate, it shattered. After breakfast, I went out into the city with Jenn and Kat, but there wasn’t a lot to do because the power was still out in most places. I ended up coming back to the hotel. My roommates weren’t there, and they had the key to the room, so I had to try the front desk again. This time I was easily given the spare key to the room. I got myself packed and took a short nap before our early lunch. Lunch, was again, not good. I just stuck to the naan.

After lunch we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Delhi. We ran into the Spanish family again. They were really happy to see us one last time, and want us to visit in Spain. They live in Barcelona, which isn’t really near port, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to go, but I wish that I could. The airport was very crowded. I couldn’t believe how many people were jammed into the tiny little room that the airport consisted of. Going through security here was the worst of anywhere. The Indian people and foreign men were in one line and foreign women were in the other. Whenever there was someone in the Indian/Men line, the women had to wait. When I was finally able to even enter to get to the x-ray machine, I had to wait while all the men passed me to have their bags x-rayed first. Security check for women was behind a curtain again, and I set off the metal detector again. When the woman was waving the little wand around me, my bra set it off again. I got what can only be described as felt up as she was searching me, and she noticed that there was something extra in my bra. I pulled out my passport and the money I was carrying there, and I guess this made her really suspicious of me, so anywhere the wand beeped got a thorough check. Because my pants had metal snaps and the zipper, I got the most thorough searching imaginable. It was a very miserable experience.

Our plane was delayed a lot, and we waited for a long time. I actually sat next to a different Spanish couple while we were waiting. They were from Madrid, and recommended Sevilla and Granada over Barcelona, so it made me feel better that I won’t be able to make it there. When we finally got to the airport in Delhi it was so late that nothing was going to be open, and there would have been nothing to do. 5 other girls and I decided to try and switch our flights from the next day to that night. We went to every flight counter and they all told us that it was not possible to get back to Chennai that night, that we had to wait until the next morning. We were very close to giving up when a man that worked for baggage clearing came up to us and asked us if we needed help. He pulled all kinds of strings and got us the last 6 seats on the 8:00 flight to Chennai. He walked us through security, and got us to the gate. We were all very happy to be going back to the ship. On the plane I sat next to this really nice man who told me that he was a classical Indian singer. Before our flight took off, he said a quick prayer, and so I asked him if he didn’t like flying. He told me that he didn’t, and I let him know that I really didn’t either. He was from Chennai and told me that with only one day there, the best thing I could do with my day was to go to Mahabalipuram. I had no plans, so I decided that if I could figure out a way to get there, I would definitely go. We talked a lot about everything. It seemed like there wasn’t anything off limits. It made the 2.5 hours go by very quickly. When we got off the plane, people started hounding him for his autograph. It was bizarre that I was sitting next to someone who was so famous, and I had no idea. After he had given out his signature to everyone that wanted it, he told me that he enjoyed meeting me. I thought about asking for his autograph too, but he seemed so exhausted from being hounded by people that I didn’t.

There was another SAS group on our plane, so after we got our bags we went over to the shuttle service and asked them to get us back to the port as fast as they could. The driver got us there so quickly I was just amazed. He dropped us off at the port gates, and then we had some trouble from the officers to let us in. We hadn’t signed out on the little book, so they didn’t want to let us in, but after one of us pulled out the magical landing card, they let us through. The port area is really sketchy, so we went through it as quick as possible. There was a group of men heckling us, and that just pushed us through even faster. We got onto the ship without any wait. I looked in the free ticket box to see if there were any tickets for the next day, but there weren’t. I did look at the trips for the next day and saw there was one going to Kancheepuram and Mahabalipuram leaving at 7, so I decided to just try and get on that one.

October, 19, 2007
“No, you’re bothering her because she’s a girl and you’re going to stop right now.”
Chennai, Kancheepuram, and Mahabalipuram, India

I got up at 5:30 to get ready, check my email, and get breakfast before trying to get onto the trip going to Kancheepuram and Mahabalipuram. I was one of only 2 people at breakfast. It opened early for everyone leaving on the 7:00 trip because we had to meet at the bus by 6:40. After breakfast I saw that I had some freak service on my cell phone, so I tried to call home. It didn’t work. I did get to send some texts to my family. I went to the bus, and there was a lot of space left on the trip plus all kinds of people that didn’t show up. I got on the trip with no problem. We started off with a bus ride to Kancheepuram that took a while. Well, I think it took a while. I slept almost the whole way there. I was awake long enough to see us pass by St. Thomas mound, but not much longer than that. We stopped once for us all to be able to use the restroom, but I just assumed continue sleeping.

Kancheepuram is one of the 7 holy cities in India, and is the only one of the cities that is located in southern India, When we got to Kancheepuram, we went to 3 different Hindu temples. Two were dedicated to Shiva and one was for Vishnu. The temples were all built during the reigns of the Pallava kings when Kancheepuram was the capital of the area. The first temple was still in use today. The doors to the temple were huge. They were designed so that elephants couldn’t bust through them to aid people in breaking in. The door was very tall and had spikes where the elephants’ heads would have been and rounded off bumps nearer to the ground where people would have used the doors. The temple was being visited by a bunch of Indian girls on what appeared to be a school field trip. Most of them were really smiley and waved to the group of us. I asked to take a picture of a couple groups of them, and all but one didn’t have a problem with it. There was one girl in a group who sneered at me and told me I could if I gave her 2,000 rupees. I didn’t. There were seven platforms in the temple and we were allowed up to the 3rd one. Non-Hindus aren’t allowed in the main sanctum sanctorum. The colors inside the temple were just beautiful. The vibrance of the colors was such a contrast to the dustiness and dirtiness of the area just outside of the temple. Most of us were blessed by a brahmin at this temple. We were give red dots on our forehead. Red is supposed to be the color of life and our tour guide told me that the red dot symbolized female power. It was very nice to hear that something actually stood for the power of the female after spending so much time in northern India being treated like a piece of meat and a second class citizen. When we left the temple, the videographer (who I should have mentioned was on our trip) asked to interview me about the temple. It was difficult because there was a woman begging me for money the whole time. The next temple in Kancheepuram had some extraordinarily ornate carvings. It was painted at one time, but the British were trying to preserve it and covered it in something that hid the color. I can’t even imagine what it would have looked like with colors. There were several carvings of the goddess of sleep at this temple. I didn’t see any carvings of her anywhere else, and I think she was only shown as an example of how not to live your life. Most of the Hindu sculptures feature very healthy bodies in some form of motion, and the goddess of sleep is always depicted as very overweight and just sitting idly. The last temple had been added onto since it was originally built. One of the carvings on the wall depicted the two temples we had been to right before it, which was pretty interesting.

When we were done with the temple viewing we were ahead of schedule, so we stopped for a silk weaving demonstration and at a silk shop. Kancheepuram is known for its silks. The shop we went to was a little pricey, but not overly so. It was a government shop which is supposed to guarantee that no child labor is used in the making of the products. I had a lot of rupees left to spend before I left India, so I got a few things that I liked. While I was waiting for everyone else to finish shopping I was talking to the trip leader about some of my experiences in northern India, and how nothing is ever what it seems to be in India. The trip leader told me that the stop at the silk shop wasn’t even what it seemed to be. The tour guide was hungry, so she dropped us off at a shop so that she could get food. After the shop we drove to Mahabalipuram, which I heard took a while, but again, I used the bus ride for sleep. We stopped at a hotel in Mahabalipuram for lunch. It was wonderful. It was the first time we were given food in India that I thought was excellent. The masala was wonderful. Everything was on the spicy (hot) side, but it was just amazing. After lunch one of the waiters asked me to take a picture of him on my camera. I don’t think he had ever seen a picture of himself because he liked looking at it so much. He got his picture taken with me, and I promised to email both pictures to the hotel so that he could have them. There was a payment fiasco with drinks. They overcharged us, and we were trying to sort it out. The whole ordeal caused us to be late, and our tour guide got fed up with it and told us all to just leave, that it was the hotel’s fault for mishandling the bill.

We stopped at the largest bas relief in the world. There was actually more than just that to see here. The vendors here took a liking to me, and followed me around a lot. I think it had a lot to do with my paleness and the blonde hair, but I can’t prove it. Some other men were jeering at the whole group of us while we were touring the monuments and the tour guide told them off. When we were trying to look at the bas relief she even slapped one of them. The vendors were still hassling me throughout this whole site, and finally the videographer stepped up and told them to leave me alone. They ignored him at first, but he got in their face and just let them have it. I was unbelievably happy to have a man finally stand up for me and give me the help I needed. When we got onto the bus there was a man selling elephant carvings and no one was buying from him, so I told him I would pay 100 rupees for one. He put it in my hand and said “200,” but I didn’t want to pay more than 100 for it, which was actually pretty unreasonable of me, but I just wasn’t feeling too generous with the street vendors at this site. I gave it back to him, and then he put it back in my hand and said, “170.” I gave it back to him and told him that I didn’t want it. I was actually stepping onto the bus and he put it back in my hand and told me “100.” The tour guide told me that she had never seen anyone get that particular item for less than 250 rupees, and she didn’t have any idea how I did it. I think mostly it was because no one was interested but me and I was so angry with the vendors for how they had been treating me that I just wasn’t willing to pay anything reasonable. We also toured the Five Rathas in Mahabalipuram. They were monolithic temples each created in a different style. The vendors here hassled me too, but not like before. I am not sure why, but one of the vendors actually got the others to leave me alone when I wasn’t buying anything. Maybe it was because he wanted me to buy from him when we left. I had 100 rupees left, so I did end up buying from him because I appreciated him getting the other vendors to leave me alone. I got 2 really cool fabric paintings. The last place we visited was the Shore Temple. We didn’t spend very long here because we had to make it back to the ship for onship time and we knew that traffic was going to be pretty bad. My mom was actually able to call me on the drive back to the ship, and I was able to talk to her for a little while. My dad called me after my mom. It made me happy to be able to talk to them for just a few minutes, because I hadn’t talked to them since Japan. When I got back to the ship, the first thing I did was get a shower. I think that I still smell like India a little bit, and that there’s a good chance that the smell will never quite come out of the clothes I wore while I was there.

~*I think wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow*~
-Anita Desai

They say that when you go to India, you either love it or you hate; you’re willing to take it all in or you fight it and wish for home. It may not be evident from my entry, but I fall in the loving India category. Hopefully I get to go back someday (though never again to Agra). India would probably defeat me again, but that is just part of its charm.

<3 India <3


Anonymous said...

Wow Jessica....There is no end to your experiences...and so many more to come before you get home. I loved getting to talk to you as did your Dad. It made my day and my week.

People at work still ask about you...where you are and what you are doing...Dr. Polinski asked about you Wednesday and said he can't keep up with where you are....Sally wants to hear all about your latest adventures.

Take care and stay safe...Looking forward to hearing more and talking to you soon.

Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

Hey sister! Mom forgot to mention that i loved talking to you too but i'm sure you could have already guessed that.. i miss you tons and it sounds like you are having some great experiences =]

love you,

Mike & Bilha said...

Hi Jessica,

We loved reading your entry on India. It gave such a great description of what it is like to be a young woman visiting this country!

We've read all your blog entries and really enjoy them. Keep up the writing!

We can tell that you are having an amazing experience, and we hope that it remains that way for you.

Mike and Bilha
(Donna's parents -- say Hi to Donna for us :-) )

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