Sunday, October 30, 2011

Latest addiction (not counting the barfies...)

Mir stumbled upon this amazing sweet shop/fast food place called Kanha. A full meal is 130 rupees which translates to $2.50. Today I had a masala dosa and litchi shake. Meals are always followed by a delicious barfi on the way out. I'm really going to miss this place.

Perfect description of traffic in India

"Traffic churned through the streets with wonderous and mysterious efficiency - a ballistic dance of buses, trucks, bicycles, cars, ox-carts, scooters, and people." - Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fatehpur Sikri and Our First Lessons on Indian Tourism

On the way to Agra a couple weeks ago we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, an entire city built from sandstone in 1571, lived in for 14 years, then completely abandoned. Now, the free mosque area is populated by goats and the homeless while the actual palace/fort area is guarded by a ticket booth where the ticket agents will always try and short change you by a couple hundred rupees (they tried it on all 10 of us). The place was overwhelming both in scale but also in the number of people following us trying to push their wares or begging for money. Tourism in India is like nothing else anywhere in the world and takes patience and an uncanny talent for tuning out the rest of the world.

One of the hallways being kept spotlessly clean.

Myriam, me, and Leen wearing head coverings made of plastic mesh since we've entered into an Islamic holy place.

The protective walls and main entrance gate.

Climbing our way up to the entrance. Leen and Sandra.

These houses are right outside the sandstone city, quite a contrast.

Whitewash and Street Kids

Last Sunday we took a trip to Vatsalya orphanage to do some service work. After a quick tour of the dorms, school, and kitchen and a chai break (the best chai so far!) we broke up into groups to tackle some of the things on the orphanage's to-do list. Julian, Fay, and I went to white wash the guest rooms that the volunteers use. The other teams went to work on the glass panes for the solar cooker and oil paint the school rooms. It's the first time I ever worked with white wash and I must say that painting with my home depot paint is way easier. For whitewash, first you have to mix water into this white putty-like mixture until it becomes as running as water. Then you have to mix powdered color dye in it until you achieve the proper overly bright color to make it properly Indian. We took a lunch break with the kids in their cafeteria and the food was some of the best I had. Real home-made comfort quality food and we even got some delicious rice porridge for dessert. After finishing up the white-washing we got a chance to play with the kids. They taught us how to play kabbaddi-kabbaddi which every school-age child plays. The rules are too long and complicated to write out here, but basically you hold your breath and on exhale you keep repeating kabbiddi-kabbiddi-kabbiddi without taking a breath and in the mean-time, you cross into the other team's territory and try to tag one of them without getting tackled. Yes, tackled. Even though we were much bigger than the kids we were competing against, we still lost all 3 games we played against them. We had a great time though and I got to wrap up my time with the younger boys by video taping them singing and dancing for me, which they thought was the greatest thing ever.

The school house, they're still saving for glass to put in the windows.

The girls' dorm cluster.

The cafeteria and the solar cooker on the roof. One of the boys wanted to join, that's the "formal" picture pose that they all assume when getting their picture taken. That is, of course, until the video camera comes out...

Julian, me, and Fay trying to figure out how to mix whitewash. Julian eventually got tired of mixing with a stick and stuck his hands in. Which actually works much better.

The boys putting on a show.

Indian Truck Stop / Barber Shop

In India, barber shops just pop up anywhere. They will show up randomly on sidewalks (all you need is a barber's chair and a willing barber), and in this case, in some old metal box on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. And notice the truck. The truckers spend their money decorating their trucks. This one just has some fun paint and a nice fringe. We've seen some with gilded cabs, fringed all over, painted REALLY bright colors, and with speakers on the sides so that everyone can share in on the music the driver is listening to.

Friday, October 28, 2011


My favorite part of Diwali is the sweets. Here's a Kaju Apple and two Pista Barfis.

Happy Diwali!!!

So I've made it through my first Diwali celebration. Jaipur is completely decorated in lights in a sort of Christmas meets Las Vegas sort of way and we've got too many half-finished boxes of Indian sweets in the fridge. Diwali is on the same level as Christmas in the US. It's a festival where Lakshmi, the goddess of money, is worshiped in a ceremony called a "pooja". The finance manager for Morarka Foundation generously invited us to his home where we got to witness him, his wife, and two boys participate in the pooja, followed by an amazing home cooked meal, and then the part that all Indian kids look forward to the most: fireworks. For days before Diwali, firework vendors fill the streets and every Indian family stocks up. They took us to the back entrance of their complex where all the other families that live by them had gathered to set off fireworks. I've never seen so many fireworks in my life. Fireworks were going off all over the city from about 7 pm until the early morning hours.

Lighting fireworks with the neighborhood.

Fay, me, and Erman ready for Diwali!

Lake Palace decked out for Diwali.

The condo complex we celebrated Diwali at.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The only lunch place open on Diwali

McDonalds in India serves no hamburgers. Instead you can get a veggie, paneer, or chicken burger, all with a little Indian spice pizazz.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Cows

Ever since the day I first heard of the sacred cows of India that roam the city streets, I always wondering where on earth the cows came from. Was some religious institution populating the streets with cows? Did they possibly belong to anyone? Are they strays from some far-off farm? Turns out the cows are owned by people who are too poor to own land, so they let their cows wander free to search for food. In the city cow forage means weeds and trash. The cows in the village have a much better time of things in that they have fallow fields full of natural food. But the city cows really are a spectacle to behold. They have no fear of cars, trucks, or people. Their favorite place to lounge is on the median in the middle of a busy street. They congregate around overflowing dumpsters and in piles of trash in the early evenings. And what's crazy is most of them seem be doing pretty well for themselves and are able to provide their families with milk.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tree pose at Taj Mahal

We've been taking yoga classes every morning and where better to practice our tree pose than in front of the Taj Mahal? All the Indian tourists loved it and we even had a bunch of teenage boys run up to grab this image with their cell phones.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Auto rickshaw ride in Jaipur city walls

This part of the rickshaw ride is within Jaipur's city walls. It's a much older part.

Auto rickshaw ride in Jaipur

This part of the rickshaw ride is where our guest house is.

First day in Jaipur

Today was quite an eventful day for being my first day in Jaipur. We woke up to a great breakfast and then had our introductory meeting where we got to share our stories with one another. I'm working with some very cool and interesting people from all over the world. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant called "Four Seasons" where I had my first super-authentic palek paneer. The chunks of paneer were huge and the garlic naan that I had was absolutely smothered in garlic. After a filling and very spicy lunch (but not for me! I ordered "light spice") we headed into the walls of Jaipur to see the City Palace. I got my very first auto rickshaw experience on the way. As scarey as it is, I think it's an amazing way to travel. You're on street level the whole time and since it's completely open, you can hear all the sounds, see all the sights, and smell all the smells. We got a guide once we got to the palace which really helped in understanding the history. The queens' chamber was amazing, the ceilings were painted with gold and inlaid with jewels and mirrors. We even spotted a colony of monkeys as they made their way across the top of the palace!! The day ended with another rickshaw ride home and a relaxing couple hours while the cook prepares our dinner. So far Jaipur has lived up to all my expectations and then some. I've seen a palace, eaten Indian food, seen monkeys, and got to witness cows wandering the streets. Tomorrow is our kickoff meeting where we get to meet the NGO's that we're working for. I'm really looking forward to that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Preparing for the trip

With a little more than a week to go until I leave, it's crunch time. I just got back from an amazing vacation to France and Germany, it's pretty crazy that I'm leaving again so soon. I've got my India visa and all my immunizations done, now all that's left is the fun research I get to do before I head out. And pack of course... ;)