Monday, April 21, 2014

My India Travels and Eats, Day 5

On day 5 in India, we woke up at our hotel in Khajuraho and headed out fairly early to see some temples. We were hooked up with a guide which we thought was weird since Veejay was showing us around the day before.

 Michael was ready to go!

We took a car to some of the sights and I was able to get a quick photo of the colorful city of Khajuraho.

We arrived at the western group of temples, which turns out is protected and cared for by UNESCO and the Indian government. We had no idea we'd be arriving in such a pristine looking place. I'm glad we had a guide, otherwise we wouldn't have had a clue where to go or where to buy tickets.

Our guide showed us around some of the more popular temples, pointing to carvings and making comments like "There is loving couple", referring to a man and a woman having 1-on-1 sex. Of course there was also "This is what we call 'self service.'" and "This is a very acrobatic pose.". He was a pretty funny guy. The temples here in the western group are pretty graphic, as you can see in the photos below. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, pointing out individual carvings and explaining what was going on in each scene.

This next photo is of a carving that our guide couldn't get enough of. He was laughing while telling us the backstory. Out of all the elephants lining the temples, this is the only one with his head turned. Distinguished by the smile lines, you can see that the elephant is laughing at the couple to his left. Turns out the builders and carvers of the temples wanted to spice things up a bit and added humor to some areas, like this.

 As old as these temples are, I couldn't believe the details.

Our guide made sure to point out the carvings in this next photo. He said "During war, there were no women. However, they DID have horses..." and then giggled while we snapped some photos.

We couldn't believe the enormity of these temples and the surrounding land. The structure of the temples was interesting, too. The monuments were built of sandstone and used no mortar but rather a locking system. We were told that if you were to take one of the discs off of a pillar that the entire pillar would come crumbling down. Crazy. This western group of temples are protected and maintained which is why they're in such great shape.

We had to take our shoes off every time we stepped into a temple. I always love a chance to take my shoes off.


I don't know what it is with Indian girls but they always seem so enamored with me.  This group of girls came up to me, shook my hand, and asked me to take their picture. They each spoke pretty good English, telling me "Nice to meet you!". It was sweet.

We took a drive through Khajuraho then ended up at a local shop that is family owned and operated. Everyone in Khajuraho is extremely kind. They served us Coca Cola, of course, and gave us a tour of their shop. We ended up buying a few small items. One of the gentlemen there said to me, "I don't even care if you buy anything! I just appreciate people looking at the items we make. We are very proud of our work.". We ended up back at the hotel and ate a quick breakfast. Michael had sweet paratha and I had poori masala.

We went back to the teeny tiny airport in Khajuraho and guess who we ran into! THE CHINESE COUPLE! First Agra, then Khajuraho, and it turns out they were headed for Varanasi as well. Too funny! We couldn't believe we were running into them again! Anyway, we ended up catching a flight to Varanasi. I think we ate a snack in the airport but I don't have any photos. When we arrived in Varanasi, we took a car into the city to reach the Ganga. Wow, we were finally seeing Varanasi for the first time. It was exciting but overwhelming. I have never heard so many car horns or seen so many people, animals, shops, and homes crammed into one place. This is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world so people live in very tight quarters. Varanasi has a VERY distinct smell to it which we noticed immediately -- spice, feces, and urine. The spice smell in the other places we were smelled quite pleasing but this was different. This was Varanasi. I learned to deal with the smell after sometime but the first day was hard. I also couldn't believe the lack of roads! Varanasi, at least by the river, is mainly made up of alleys with a few main roads weaving through them. A man picked us up from our car when we were dropped off and walked us through the alleys to reach the house we were staying in. We couldn't believe how tightly everything was packed. These small alleys lined with shops were filled with people, animals, and motorcycles. Yeah, motorcycles were driving through! There was hardly any room for pedestrians let alone motorcycles. It was so much to take in. I loved seeing all the different vendors. It was also interesting and cute to see the numerous children running some of these shops. We were noticing all of these things and we had only been in Varanasi for a few minutes. We couldn't wait to see more of it. We checked into the house we were staying in and went out to the river. Luckily we stayed in close proximity to the main ghat so it was a short walk.

We found a random restaurant (out of MANY) and got some dosas. We obviously didn't eat the chutney with milk in it. This was GOOD. We ate a lot of fried foods in India.

We went back to the main ghat just in time for the nightly ceremony. It was beautiful. I couldn't believe how many people there were!

This woman had tried over and over to sell us some cheap items she had. We weren't having it but she kept insisting. Eventually I let her draw on my hand and fingernails. She talked to us a little bit -- she said she had children and that her husband was deceased. We also noticed she had been burned by acid on most of her body. She was sweet and we ended up buying a book of Varanasi photos from her.

After the nightly ceremony we went back to the house and relaxed before falling asleep. There were so many noises surrounding us but somehow we were able to fall asleep. Next up, catch us on day 6 in India where we get lost in Varanasi, run into some very nice people, and I have an emotional breakdown.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My India Travels and Eats, Day 4

On day 4 in India, we woke up before sunrise to see the Taj Mahal. The easten gate was maybe 1km, if that, from our hotel. We sunscreened up, ate a small snack from our bag, and left. We walked out and followed another group of white people. That must mean we're headed in the right direction, right? We had a rickshaw driver tell us over and over that the ticketing office was in the opposite direction. We didn't believe him. We kept walking and he kept telling us. We just figured he was trying to sell us his services. Turns out we were both right -- he was trying to sell us his services but the ticketing office WAS in the opposite direction. We sure felt stupid! He walked his rickshaw alongside us, trying to get us to ride the entire way to the ticketing office. You know who else talked to us during the walk to the ticketing office? A LOT Indian vendors. Every shop wanted to sell us their "high quality but inexpensive" marble. Yeah, right. Every guy came up to us and told us to come into his shop after our visit to the Taj Mahal. Everyone tried to sell us clothing, shoes, food. The homeless begged for money. This was NON STOP. The persistence of the rickshaw driver combined with the nagging of every vendor near the eastern gate made us feeling like we wanted to punch someone. We were hating Agra and we had only been out in it for maybe 30 minutes.

When we came out after purchasing tickets, he was still there waiting for us. Ok, we'll take it. The guy was persistent after all. And nice! We talked him down and paid him equivalent to maybe $2 so it wasn't too bad.

Rickshaws are tiiiiny. Michael didn't fit.

We arrived at the eastern gate, again, but this time with tickets in hand. Unfortunately the line into the Taj was no different than any other place in India -- the men and women had separate lines. Michael waved goodbye and headed to his short line.

After going through metal detectors, we were in!

The sun was rising beautifully over the exterior walls of the compound.

Our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from inside the estate. It blended right into the sky, didn't it? Almost looked like a backdrop.

We've seen pictures, obviously, of the Taj Mahal but we never imagined how it would look in person. Honestly, it's majestic. It's just so... grand. We couldn't believe its beauty. We walked around and hung out in the garden for a while. We couldn't take pictures inside the Taj Mahal but it was stunning. Shah Jahan and Mumatz Mahal are buried inside and surrounded by such ornate details in marble and various gemstones. The exterior walls and land were perfectly built around the Taj Mahal -- everything was made with precision (the Taj Mahal is actually as wide as it tall). There are mausoleums surrounding the Taj Mahal so it took us a while to get through everything.

During our exploration, we ran into an Austrian photographer who was intrigued by me and my "art", as he referred to my tattoos. He kept calling me beautiful and even took a few photos of me in front of the Taj. I just sent him an email and am hoping to get copies soon!

I'm standing next to it for scale.

Sitting on the backside of the Taj Mahal, looking out over the river.

Michael standing next to the entrance to the Taj Mahal for scale.

 We took one last photo before we left to see the variation in color of the sky. Didn't look so much like a backdrop here.

After sightseeing, we head back to our hotel. Of course we were hassled and followed on the way back as well. Damn you, Agra. Since it's still morning we head for the free buffet breakfast before we check out. Luckily almost all of the Indian options are vegan. Score! We stocked up on vada, rice, and some dish that I can't remember. This breakfast was delicious. We ate a LOT of it. We were hungry and about to fly out to Khajuraho so we made sure to stuff our bellies.

As we are checking out, we run into a young Chinese couple. We don't think anything about it until we get into the Agra airport and see them there as well. Hm, coincidence I guess. We fly into Khajuraho and are greeted at the airport by our "hotel representative" and our driver. We were wondering what the heck a hotel representative was. He's almost like a concierge, always keeping in contact with us and helping us with our travels. He takes us back to the hotel, hands us flowers, and checks us in. He shows us to our room and tells us he plans on showing us around Khajuraho (for a price, of course). Temples and folk dancing at night and in the morning go see some more temples! Sounds great! The prices weren't too bad (I think everything was around $20 total) so we agreed to it.

Our room was beautiful. We had a balcony leading out to a grove of papaya and mango trees. We were overlooking one of the villages, too, which was neat.

Here is us on our balcony with the flowers.

Our bed was adorned with flower petals!

Doors leading out to balcony.

This was by far the nicest place we stayed during our entire trip. The entire hotel smelled of fresh flowers (they kept fresh picked flowers in the lobby at all times) and it was made of marble. We hung out for about an hour or so in the room before we headed out with our hotel representative, Veejay. He took us around to see the southern temples. These were neat -- most were located just randomly in the middle of some of the villages. The detail on these temples were incredible, as you can see below. Some of these dated as far back as 10th century.

We ran into this little puppy in one of the villages. He wanted to play with my skirt. I didn't want to touch him, though. I wasn't sure what was crawling on him.

Michael and VJ at one of the southern temples.

I thought these girls looked so cute and took a photo. They ran over to me and hugged me like crazy after I took it.
Chaturbhuj Temple - Lord Vishnu with 3 different bodies (head, torso, legs)

Seeing the temples and getting glimpses of Khajuraho was neat. This city smelled GOOD, unlike Agra. There were villages situated among the temples. Kids played in large grassy areas, women hung up laundry, and most locals waved at us. It was a neat little city and we couldn't wait to see more.

We headed back to the hotel and ran into the CHINESE COUPLE! Say what? Their room was next to ours! That's weird. They were at our hotel in Agra and now Khajuraho! Too funny. We talked with them a bit and discussed what a weird coincidence this was. It gets even weirder later. Trust me. We all leave for the local folk dancing at night. Uh, this was no local folk dancing. Turns out a group of professional Indian dancers were in Khajuraho and that's the show we ended up seeing. The auditorium was located right in the center of Khajuraho. This place was weird. There was astroturf and statues replicating the carvings on the temples EVERYWHERE. It was like we had walked onto a movie set or something. It didn't look real, honestly. The inside of the auditorium was small but cute. We were seated in the front row, by the way. Before the dancing started some weird voice came over the speakers and started to describe what we were about to see -- different styles of dance from all over India! Seemed pretty interesting The dancing started and we were already feeling a little skeptical. One of the guys wouldn't stop making eye contact with all of us in the theater. We ended up moving back a few rows because we couldn't handle being in the front with all the awkwardness of the staring going on. They were also fake playing drums as well as lip syncing the entire performance. In between each style of dance, after the slowest curtain closing I've ever experienced, that voice would come over the speakers and explain the next dance. The whole experience was... odd. There were a few talented dancers that stuck out to us, though. Luckily the tickets only cost us a few bucks so we at least have good stories to tell I guess.

We had dinner on the rooftop of the hotel but we were eating by candlelight so I couldn't get any photos. Seriously, it was by candlelight. I could barely see my own hands let alone my food. It was beautiful up there, though. I still can't believe the stars in India -- the sky is so visible at night there. Anyway, I got baingan bharta and I can't remember what Michael got, both served with roti. My food was sort of bland but Michael seemed to really like his. We headed for bed feeling pretty great about the day and ready to experience more of Khajuraho the next morning.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My India Travels and Eats, Day 3

 Day 3 in India started off an early one. We woke up at 3:30am in Kanha to get ready for our cab ride leaving at 4am for the Jabalpur airport. We were headed to Agra! Woohoo! We head up to the main building with our bags packed and no one is there. Uh oh. After calling the main guy at our resort a bunch of times, finally someone showed up, checked us out, and woke up the driver who was sleeping in the parking lot. We head out for a 4 1/2 hour cab ride in another direction from when we came in. We were able to sleep a little in the cab but it was so hard staying asleep when we passed so many neat looking villages.

We make it to the Jabalpur airport and I am huuungry at this point. Luckily we bring snacks -- fig bars, granola bars, and of course Starbursts. Let me just say a little about this airport. Oh man, this is the sketchiest airport I've ever been to. It's TINY with only one or two airlines leaving out of it. There was one gate with a set of double doors leading out to the runway.... that were left open. Security seemed a bit lax here but no one was acting out of line or anything. We end up boarding our flight right out on the runway (this was common for us in India) and left for Mumbai. Here we have a little bit of a layover before we leave for Agra so we have a little snack in the airport. Airport food isn't always the greatest but this was fairly good.

Masala dosa, samosas, and a vegetable puff.

We arrived in Agra around 6:00pm and took a cab to our hotel which is located right down the street from the eastern gate to the Taj Mahal. We finally got a glimpse of Agra! It's busy and some buildings are a bit modern which was nice to see. So much was going on in the city so it was a fun little ride to the hotel. We checked in, headed up to our room, and relaxed a bit. We had planned on seeing the city a little bit but went against it when we realized how tired we were. You'll see on the next post how we were definitely glad we didn't go out into the city.

I don't know what the deal was with that window but we sure had fun with it! We ended up on the rooftop of our hotel for dinner. It was lovely up there -- a view of the Taj with sitar and tabla players serenading the diners.

Honestly I can't even remember what we ordered. We ordered two different dishes off their vegetarian menu with roti and I also got a cup of daal on the side.

Both dishes were super tasty! Michael's had cashews and pineapple. Yum. We ate these pretty fast and headed to sleep. This was a very busy day of traveling and we were going to get up early to see the Taj the next morning. We couldn't wait! Not much action going on on day 3 here in India but day 4 is much more action packed. Keep an eye out for the next post!