Saturday, February 5, 2011

Welcome To India!

Greetings from India! The last few days have been travel and then a wonderful welcome to India! I am now with Hunter and Sazzy, friends from Seattle, and staying with Sazzy's family for the wedding of his cousin Daovar! So as usual let me start where I left off last time, and catch up to where I am now:

Brendan and Ryan were about to hop on a bus to head back south for more birding, so it was time to say our goodbyes. It's been great to get to travel with more friends from Seattle so far from home and there is a chance I'll see Brendan again out here, but who knows. Either way we had a great time together and would have spent more time with each other had schedules not been so different.

I had initially planned on waking up early and doing a 4 hour yoga class, yoga being something I've always wanted to try. However as I mentioned last time, my stomach was still upset and I was not feeling well enough for 4 hours of body-contorting (and stomach squeezing) yoga. Instead, I went back to Fluid Pool and did some quality relaxing. At the pool I did a number of laps, laid out in the sun, ate a chicken pesto sandwich, met some more girls from London and then took off to check out of my room, return the moto and get back into town to catch my ride to Chaing Mai.

Let me just say Pai has been one of my favorite places in Thailand, and I'd recommend it to absolutely anyone.

Back in town, I caught a mini-bus to Chaing Mai, which was a somewhat uncomfortable hour and a half ride. There, we waited an hour or so before being shuttled to the overnight bus that would take us all the way to Bangkok. The bus ride was the usual deal, only this one was more uncomfortable than most I think. Around 1:30am we finally stopped for a 'dinner' stop, and arrived in Bangkok on Khaosan shortly after 6am, on schedule. I only slept three hours all night.

I had no interest in being back in Bangkok or back on Khaosan Road again, all I wanted to do was find a decent room with wifi, and lay around all day. I began my search and it was surprisingly difficult. I went to a number of places that simply had no rooms open, and then many more that didn't have wifi. I found one a few blocks away eventually, and exploded all over the room. I was exhausted, so I laid in bed, downloading movies and chatting with friends online. In the afternoon I ventured out for some errands and food, then returned to lay back down, shower and save so I'd look fresh for my flight the next morning.

That night I went out for a late dinner, and wound up with one of the better dishes I've eaten here in Thailand, a good way to end my time here. I walked around briefly, bought some Thai fisherman pants (the best!) and returned to my room to do some writing and pack my bag for the flight the next morning.

I guess this would also be the time to reflect for a moment on Thailand, and I only have the obvious to state: It has been fantastic. I've been in the country for just over five weeks, and loved every moment of it. There has been so much to see, the people have been friendly, and it has also been extremely easy. I'd recommend it to anyone.

I had a 9am flight to catch so I took a shuttle from my hotel at about 6am to be at airport early enough to go through the often tedious international flight procedure. Everything went smoothly, and I was left with plenty of time to kill in the airport, eating absurdly overpriced airport food to use up my last few bits of Thai baht.

When I got on the airplane, an Air India flight, I had my first real contact with Indian people, and it didn't start off well. I looked at my seat and was excited to see I had gotten the window seat I requested. Happy to be able to look out the window, both at my last views of Thailand and a view coming into India, I walked down the isle to my seat, only to find an old lady sitting in it. I politely said “Excuse me, I think you are in my seat.” She however was not swayed, and told me a bit rudely that I could sit in the isle seat. This went back and forth until I gave up, and sat down in the isle, pissed off at some old lady. Not a great introduction to Indian people, haha...

After a 5 hour flight, I landed in Delhi, went through immigration, wanted half an hour for my bag to come out, and then was greeted by Sazzy and Hunter, more Seattle friends! We hopped a taxi from the airport to Sazzy's grandfathers place where the two of them had spent the night, then went off for lunch, my first of many many delicious meals here.

After putting my bags down, we headed out to the markets, in search of a few things. Sazzy was looking for a SIM card for his phone, Hunter was looking for a few things for friends, and I was really just looking around at this new country. Early impressions: in the city at least, it's crowded, busy and dirty. In a lot of ways it's not dissimilar to the other large cities I've been in, Manila and Bangkok, but it certainly has it's own very distinct flavor.

It was at this point Hunter experienced his own little taste of India. A shoe shiner ran up to him and pointed out some poop on his shoe, offering to clean it of course. He immediately took his shoe off and started working on it, not replying when Hunter asked the price. Once the shoes were cleaned, the man said that would cost 1,500 rupees (~$33)! It was obvious he had gotten a partner to drop the poop on Hunters shoe when he wasn't looking, and was running a little scam on obviously green tourists. He was still holding Hunters shoe, and in the end Hunter paid him 500 rupees to get his shoe back, a still absurd amount of money! A few minutes later we talked to another shoe shiner near an area where people were also doing ear cleaning, and was told it should cost 20 rupees, and were still later told by an Indian that they get it done for 5 rupees! Oh well, every traveler has to be ripped off once, haha...

A little later, we headed off to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the most important Sikh religious site in the city. After removing our shoes and covering our heads, we entered, sitting briefly to listen to the music and chanting, which I found very beautiful. On the way out we ate a bite of ceremonial food (forget the name) and went to the pool that accompanies the temple to look around and take a few photos. The whole place and experience was very fun. The architecture is very different from the Buddhist religious sites I've been at for the last two months, but equally interesting, and this was much ore of a functioning religious site rather than such as tourist attraction as the sites I visited in Cambodia and Thailand.

Shortly afterward, we moved to another family members household, one of the countless aunts and uncles Sazzy has around here. There, Hunter and I were greeted by what seemed like an endless stream of family members whose names I can't possibly keep track of. The house is tall three story masonry building, with a very busy street on one side, and slums on the back side which I'd like to explore. Welcome to India!

As is typical, food was everywhere and offered until you were ready to burst. I already mentioned it, but the food is just amazing. I haven't had a lot of Indian food back in the states but I've always enjoyed it, but now I absolutely love it. Every meal is a feast, and everything, and I mean everything, is good. The hospitality of Sazzys family thus far has been wonderful, and is a very different and exciting way to experience a country, much different from what I have been doing thus far as a “normal” tourist on my trip up to this point.

Sazzy, Hunter, me and one of Sazzy's uncles goofing off at the house with decorations for the wedding. This, like every night so far has been a whirlwind of family, food and late nights. A ton of fun.

The next day we found ourselves in Gurgaon, a sort of suburb outside of Delhi. This compound is owned by Sazzy's family, and is where three different immediate families live. It is a cool old building, a maze of rooms, court yards, stairs and doors. Like the other house, out front is a business or two, a very busy street, and fields and some slums on the sides.

In the afternoon, we all piled into the car and headed off to Sultanpur National Park, amazing bird sanctuary on the edge of town. And I though I was done with birding after leaving Brendan behind!

I'd never seen so many birds in one place! It was packed with storks, flamingos, spoonbills, eagles, parrots and much more. After spending a few days in the forest ot Thailand just catching glimpses of birds with Brendan and Ryan, this simply blew me away. Trees were full of huge birds, the sky was dotted with birds circling overhead, and the air was filled with seemingly dozens of different calls. Or visit was short however, I wish I was with Brendan and his spotting scope, because I could have spent all day there!

In the evening, we headed off to the mall in search of traditional Indian cloths for the wedding. Weddings are a VERY big deal here in India, and the family is being so kind to us, naturally we want to do everything we can to play along and look the part. We each ended up getting traditional Kurtas, and are excited to wear them at the ceremony, I love playing dress up!

Well, that's it for now. Being with the family, we don't have a lot of downtime, and when we do we are usually mobbed my the kids, so it's hard to get writing done. Also, we don't really have internet access, so the blog will be a bit slow for the next few days. That doesn't mean I'm not out doing things though, it's crazy fun out here and the wedding ceremony is just getting into full swing! After the wedding, we will be taking a train down south (not sure where right now) and I hope to report back then. Until next time, take care everyone, and talk to you later!