Thursday, April 19, 2012

89 Days in India wasn't long enough

(In June 2012 I returned to India for another visit which unfortunately was cut short due to an emergency back home. That month long visit was blogged about HERE)

I left the guest house  and headed over to my cousin's house. After visiting with them for the afternoon I made my way to the airport in New Delhi, got checked in, waited for a short while and boarded my flight.

I had a lot of mixed emotions. It was sad to leave India but it was also exciting to return home and share my experiences with my family and friends. My previous post really sums my trip up I think. But I should add that while it wasn't expected I ended up learning a lot about my father, his family and even a lot about myself. I learned to appreciate family and enjoyed seeing so many relatives all of whom took excellent care of me.

While I didn't plan on leaving India a different person there is a part of me that will never be the same. I'm  writing this entry two months after I left India and I can honestly say that every day I have thoughts about India, it's people and of my relatives. I smile when I look at my photos and laugh at some of the experience I had. I'm yearning now to return.

When I planned this trip last year I initially thought I would go for a month, then I decided that maybe it wouldn't be enough time. So I increased it to two months. Looking at the guide books and thinking that there was a lot I wanted to see and do I increased my vacation time to three months. Then I began to worry, what if it was too much time, what if I didn't like it, what would I do. Little did I know that 89 days in India wold not be near enough time to do everything I wanted. I suspect a life time would not give me enough time to see and do all of India.

My dream now is to return to India. When will I be able to go back? This year or next? A few years? If I could drop everything right now and board a plane tomorrow I would. But I think common sense is telling me that when the time is right to return I'll know it. I'm really hoping it's sooner than later. I want to see the Himalayas and the desert state of Rajasthan. I want to return to Mumbai and Varanasi and explore new places like Rishikesh and Dehradun. I want to meet more of my relatives and add more to my family tree. I want to loose another 15 pounds and take more photos. I want to immerse myself in a culture that I barely got to explore. I really need to return to India.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

54 Hours

I'm in New Delhi now and I forgot how things are here in the guest house. It's 9:30pm and I'm now finishing dinner. The house boy just asked me what time I would like breakfast tomorrow, if I wanted coffee or tea, and what did I want for breakfast. Silly questions, because I have no idea what I want for breakfast until I wake up, and I want breakfast when I wake up. And I wake up when I wake up. But what I told him was 8:30, so I guess I better set my alarm clock.

I forgot to mention, the taxi driver yesterday that brought me from Meerut to Delhi is like every other driver in India and keeps his horn blaring more that it is quiet. What I thought was funny was that the area on his steering wheel where he presses for the horn was so worn through that you could actually see the electrical contacts.

It's been an awesome trip. I have 54 hours left before I step foot on the airplane that will take me out of India. I'm going to miss the never ending noise, the narrow alleys, moving aside to give the cows their right of way. It won't be the same walking along the road keeping a vigilant eye out for anything and everything that wants to run me over. I'm going to miss the $16 daily car and driver, the house boys and girls that wait for my next request. I'm going to miss all the people that stared at me everywhere I went, the attention I got when I pulled my camera out, the beautiful faces that wait to be photographed. I'm going to miss the stimulating flavors of true Indian food, the cheap street food that took courage to eat the first time but now is an addiction. I'm going to miss walking 10 plus kilometers every day and the sights and sounds that came along with it. I'm going to miss the one dollar dinners and $8 body massages. I'm going to miss the beautiful smiles and warm hearts.

Not including time with relatives my favorite memories are those in the Mumbai slums that opened their doors to me and offered me drinks, snacks and dinner. I remember the little boy in rags across the street from Shilpa's flowershop that worked hard to help his father in the street side rickshaw repair stall, he worked harder in one hour than I worked in my entire life. His commitment to work hard was admirable. I'll remember driver that we had in south India for three weeks that took such good care of me and was always concerned when I was feeling under the weather. I'll remember the bus load of people that stopped so I could take everyone's photo. I'll remember all of the kind hearted people in Sarafa Market that gave me free tea and food and showed me places I wouldn't have otherwise seen. And I'll remember the bus load of schoolboys in Kodaikanal that mobbed me like I was a movie star asking questions and taking my photos.

These 89 days have been memorable and each day full of different memories. I'm looking forward to my next return soon, and I'm ready to bring anyone that wants to come along!!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A quick getaway

My taxi showed up promptly at 7am this morning and without hesitation I said a quick goodbye to my aunts and cousins. I didn't want a long drawn out teary eyed goodbye so it was a quick touch to the feet followed by a hug and the off in the taxi I went.

It actually was sad to leave Meerut and the relatives there but knowing that I would return very soon made it okay. The drive to the guest house in Delhi took three hours and then I had the taxi for the rest of the day, so after putting my bags up I took off again with the aid of my driver and went to Palika Bazaar. It's in one of the oldest parts of Delhi and is a huge underground bazaar, on top of it is a very nice park. The bazaar is a maze and while I almost never got lost it did take me a few minutes to find my way again. Okay, I got lost. But not for long. It was neat in there, mostly clothes, electronics, pirated dvd's and tons of pushy sellers. Then back to the guest house I went.

A quick play on the internet and then off for a walk (don't need any lost pounds coming back). Went to Kotla market, found a massage parlour and got a massage. It was four times the cost than in Meerut, $32. And it wasn't as good.

Now I'm sitting here having a beer. A warm beer. In India cold sodas and beers really don't exist except in tourist spots. But the beer is good nonetheless. In Meerut I had one beer, but not at my aunt's house as that would not have been allowed. On one of my many walks I found a little beer shop down a small alley. So that's where I went one night. Bought my $2 beer and sat on the little bench and drank it. Even drunk Indians like to stare at me. It was a good beer, well needed.

The house boys are getting dinner ready. There are five plates on the table so I guess there are others here that I'll have dinner with.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


It's sunday so no school for anyone today. The sky is full of kites and lots of kite fights. Everyone is getting ready for the big national kite festival on February 28. Kites are cheap here, starting at five cents but a good fighter might cost as much as a buck. The kids are on all the roof tops everywhere, screaming and yelling as they loose or win kites.

I had a great lunch today. About a kilometer away there is a chicken restaurant. In the back of the building are the live chickens. By the time the reach the front of the building they're not really that live anymore, but they are delicious. One can order full meals or what they call snacks, one piece. So today I had one piece of tandori chicken, one chicken seek kabob, and a kabob roll finished with a soda. I spent $2 today for my lunch. The sauce that came with each was one of the best I've ever had. I have no idea what is in it but I know there is lime and it's hot. Very hot. And very good. I was sweating bullets and still couldn't get enough of it.

I'm taking the rest of the day off today, just going to lay around and do nothing. Went for one walk already, maybe another tonight.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another day at Sarafa Market

I went back to Sarafa Market today here in Meerut. Another truly unexpected experience. The rickshaw ride there cost me 40 cents but considering it is a half hour ride I tipped heavily, paying $2. The driver was more than appreciative.

Sarafa Market is huge, probably the largest and oldest market I've ever been to. I went down the lane I had visited two days ago, the spice lane. The aroma of all the spices in the air tickled my nose to no end, the occasional breeze lifting the chili powder into air and occasionally finding it's way into my eyes, burning. I went back to the chai walla (tea maker) and gave him a couple printed photos that I took a couple days prior. He was more than thankful and the boys who received their photos smiled big. Another cup of tea on the house, and a few more photos taken. When I was here two days ago I took a photo of a goat dressed in sweaters, the young boy remembered and so after I finished my tea he grabbed my hand and took me down a few alleys to an open court yard, there he showed me a magnificent ram with beautiful curving horns. The owner posed with the goat for a photo. The boy again grabbed my hand and showed me the way out of the maze and back to the alley.

As during my previous visit shop owners begged to have their photo taken in front of their shops, some with their boys who will eventually take over the family business. I could only manage two or three steps at a time as the requests for photos were so frequent. After a series of photos another boy grabbed my hand and pulled me along the lane to a corner where lunch was being sold. It was his father's little spot where he had the largest pot of palau (rice and vegetables). The boy gave me serving with his father's permission. It was really good, and really spicy. You know it's really spicy when even Indian's start sweating and producing tears. Then the boy brought me a green chili to eat with my rice, I had a hard time explaining to my new friend that I really didn't need the chili. I ate all the rice, thankful that I made it to the last bite. When I tried to pay the father would not accept my money, and again I showed my gratitude by snapping some photos. The father's business was doing great. He brought a huge pot of rice to this corner every day and sold lunch to the shop owners and passerby's. Just as I thought I was going to make my get away a well dressed business man grabbed my hand and motioned for me to go with him down a side alley. We went about fifty feet and into another small tea stand, room for four people inside. He motioned to a boy, said something in Hindi and a few minutes later I had another serving of palau from the father I had eaten from only minutes before. My tongue must have been numb because I had no problem eating this serving, and once done another cup of tea was served. All a gift from the business man.

While I was in the alley where there were few people I decided to put my camera back into my backpack, then I made may way back to the lane for quick escape. At the five way intersection I decided to turn right, the direction the wind was blowing. I walked for about two kilometers where the lane was lined with a variety of hardware stores, tea stands and street food vendors. After some time when I decided to look up at the buildings I realized that I had made my way into the red light district. Girls of all types made up in lots of make up and skimpy clothes lined numerous balconies, many smiling at me and motioning for me to climb the stairs. Climb the stairs I did not, turn around and walk the two kilometers back out of the red light district I did.

Back at the five way intersection I went forward and stopped at another large street food stand where pakoras, samosas and even fried chicken was available. There I took a few photos and, you guessed it, I was offered an abundance of food on the house. Then I continued past more hardware stores, dress shops, all sorts of retail shops and street food carts. Then in one small area all the kite stores were grouped together. Kids were lined up to buy kites, there's a huge kite festival that will happen on February 28 which explains all the kites in the sky every day, kids are practicing their fighting techniques.

Knowing I was headed out of the market area I decided to turn left at the next intersection, the ended up being an interesting choice. A city block or so I noticed a small alley to the right and down that a short bit a group of people sitting and enjoying tea. So I gave in to my curiosity and walked down the side alley where I saw a cart full of sweet potatos and a charcoal stove. Roasted sweet potatoes are favorite snack in the afternoon and evenings. And a few feet away was another tea stand full of people drinking. By now I had a dozen boys behind me, curious as to what this foreigner was doing. More interested in my that what I was doing, actually. A man approached me and said that he would show me something special, something private. With the crowd of boys all nodding their head I followed the man though an elaborate gate and into an Islamic school where there were numerous boys and girls studying both inside the school building and outside in the court yard. I was only allowed to walk 20 feet into the courtyard and then I was told I could only take five photos. My guide was a good counter, right after the fifth photo he grabbed my arm and ushered me back to the street. It was really an experience, even an honor. I know, mom is probably thinking that I'm being unsafe but really, you had to be there. With so many people around me I really doubt anything would happen.

So I made my way back to the street and continued on my way. But not far. The word had gotten around so quickly that there was a foreigner in the area taking photos. I'm not kidding, every three steps and people would beg for their photo and of their store, and of their father, their brother, uncle, even their goat. An hour later I had barely moved, gotten some good photos and then just said enough. I put my camera into my backpack. But five steps later it came out again, then back in. Then out, then in. One man insisted that I be his guest and return at 7pm for dinner. I politely declined, saying I was having dinner with my relatives.

I ended up walking about two or so back to the house. With all it's madness, traffic, noise, pollution, crowded streets and cow shit everywhere I'm still going to miss India. The people are so beautiful, friendly and giving that it more than makes up for any shortcomings. India is India, and I hope it never changes.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A good day

Overall it was a pretty good day. Did a lot of walking, met a few people, took a few photos. Then I went and had a full body massage for an hour and a half. $9, plus $2 tip. Wow, why didn't i do this sooner? I should have been doing this all along. Going back tomorrow morning.

So tonight I was walking around looking for something to eat. First I walked about four kilometers to a park, nice park, then back to the market, didn't see anything I wanted to eat there. Then down a couple alleys to another major road. Went into a crowded chicken store. They have tandorri, kabobs, about thirty different chicken meals, many like the tandorri but with different marinades. So I'm looking at the menu and four guys, all mid 20s, are talking about me. I walk over to them and ask if they speak english, they speak perfect english. So we chat for a while, they help me order some stuff. Their food comes and they offer me samples of their food. Really good. And mine was outstanding. It's dirt cheap here, the food is outstanding. Why am I just finding this place? So I went to pay for my stuff and they ended up paying for me. Unbelievable. Of course my bill only came to 70 cents, but still. I'm still being treated like a Bollywood star.

So then I departed after saying thanks and walked a bit more. Found a nice street food stand and ordered an aloo tiki (potatoe dish), one of my favorites. While I was waiting I was talking to a couple of students and their parents, ended up they paid for mine too. Maybe tomorrow I should dress up like a star, gotta look the part if I'm going to play the part, right?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Bollywood Star

Okay, so I'm not a Bollywood star but I sure thought I was...
When I woke up this morning I asked my cousin where the oldest market was in Meerut. He said the Sarafa Market but told me I really shouldn't go. When I asked why he said it was dirty, unsafe, crowded and so large that it would be easy to get lost in. Well, to me that all sounded like perfect reasons for going.

So after my cousin went to work I took a 4 kilometer ride in a cycle rickshaw and went to the Sarafa Market. It is  the oldest and largest market of Meerut. The area I was dropped off in is a well known jewelry market throughout India. This market is so large I've never seen anything like it. And with the maze of streets and alleys it's easy to get lost. 

I walked through the jewelry area and down some alleys and streets. The widest street here is maybe six feet, okay, maybe eight feet but no more. Most are four feet wide. I walked for an hour and a half and then decided to back track. And I took out my camera because this is an amazing place to take photos. I didn't make it two feet when someone stopped me and asked that I take their photo. Then another two feet. I had people pulling at my shirt to take their photo and insisting that I  come to their shop to take more photos. I think in three hours I may have made it one city block.

I stopped for chai and the  man wouldn't take my money. He insisted it was a gift. Then I went into a pickle shop (achar) where I was given free samples to taste and a pound of my favorite to take home with me, another gift. Then I was pulled into a spice shop where I was given a variety of cashews, almonds and raisins until I couldn't eat any more. And then.... I don't think I need dinner tonight. It was absolutely amazing. And so many people spoke English, or at least a little. No one asked for anything in return except for a few minutes of conversation and to have their photo taken. It was as if the market came to an abrupt stop and the focus was entirely on me. Everywhere people smiles, shook my hands, insisted I be their guest. Boys asked about America, telling me that one day they would go there to make their fortunes.

What am I going to do tomorrow? Oh, I have to go to the college and see if I can find dad's records. But then I'm taking a rickshaw back to the market and spending the day. Maybe the weekend. I have to many photos to share and so many updates to do to the blog that I don't know  when I'll get time to do it. Maybe on the plane ride back home.

I really don't have anything planned for tomorrow but I think I know where I might go!

Dried chili peppers

Serving up rice for lunch

Chai walla

Chai Stand