Site Meter

April 11, 2010

India, in words


It has been nearly three weeks since I got back from India, and this is the third time that I have sat down to write a post about it. Both of my previous attempts ended up in the recycle bin (which is why I served up a quicky photos only post), but the time has come to figure out how to put it into words. As I try to express myself it all sounds so cliché. It is true though, India is not a place I will soon forget.



We arrived to Delhi at 11 pm on a weeknight and we were greeted by a crowded airport. We were shortchanged within the first ten minutes of getting there, putting us immediately on the alert. The air in Delhi was thick with exhaust fumes and dust. Considering the time of night we were surprised by how congested the roads were, but this was nothing compared to the congestion we would soon experience during the daytime. We shared the road with so many other cars, but just as many motorcycles, wagons pulled by buffalo and horses, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, and the occasional elephant. There were homeless sleeping on the sidewalks, men hanging around in front of closed businesses, and stray dogs everywhere we looked. I turned and looked at Becca and said, "We are in India."

Delhi had us on edge. So many people lied to us and tried to swindle us. Delhi was my least favorite stop, but there were some amazing moments. My favorite experience was walking in Gandhi's final footsteps at the Gandhi Smriti. We also took a cooking class while in Delhi, which turned out to not be up to the standards that we had hoped, both in quality of food and sanitary conditions. However, I did learn a few things worth sharing, which I will at some point (including a technique of preparing eggplant which should end my streak of hardly edible eggplant dishes).


We took a 2 hour train ride down to Agra for the day to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. The Taj exceeded the beauty you always read about and see in photographs, it really is a wonder!
We were accosted by Indian tourists that day, wanting to take photos with us. At one point I was up against the wall outside the exit of the Taj Mahal, surrounded by a semi-circle of people jumping in to take their turn posing for photos with me. Becca was standing back getting a good laugh all the while snapping a few photos of the spectacle going on. After several people people posed for photos a woman approached me holding a baby. She was facing me straight on, not turned outward to pose for a photo like the other people had done. She didn't speak English and I was pretty confused why she was just standing there smiling, and holding her baby. The only thing I could think to do was to wave at her baby and say, "Hello, baby!" Then very suddenly she pushed her baby into my arms and stepped back, and all of the onlookers erupted into laughter, and the snapping of pictures increased. Becca managed to snap a few photos herself in between wiping the tears which were a product of her own hysterical laughter. There were many laughter-invoking moments in India, but this one was our favorite.

Next stop, Corbett National Park, a tiger reserve in Northern India. We stayed inside the park in the Dhikala zone forest lodge. The lodge was off the grid, running on solar panels during the day, with only spotty electricity at night. We lost electricity just as the sun was going down, so after dinner they equipped us with matches and two candles. We were then left alone in the darkness with the sounds of the wilderness outside, with not much to do but take cold showers by candlelight, and turn in early. We could hear the humming of generators outside, but these were only used for the electrified fences around the camp to keep the tigers out.



We had two days of sightseeing safaris in different areas of the park. The tigers decided not to show themselves to us, but there was no shortage of amazing wildlife. We saw elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, wild boars, jackals, turtles, several breeds of deer, and tons of exotic birds.





Heading out of Corbett we took a second class sleeper train overnight back to Delhi, and in the morning flew out to Bagdogra airport, in the far northeast. From there we took a jeep 3 hours up into the Himalayan Mountains to Darjeeling (at 7500 feet). Darjeeling has front row views of the third highest peak in the world, Mount Kanchenjunga. The population there is mostly Nepali, but there is also a strong Tibetan presence--it was definitely the most culturally diverse location that we visited. Darjeeling really had a small town feel, and for the first time in India we felt very safe and not afraid to roam around on foot. In fact, we walked everywhere, uphill and downhill, which are the only two options there. The roads are steep and zigzag through town, and there are long steep staircases that serve as alleys between the roads. We never fully adjusted to the change in altitude, so during the long walks upward we would get winded quicker than we are used to and have to take breaks.

Tea is the main export in Darjeeling. Tea bushes grew everywhere on the rolling hillsides. We visited the Happy Valley Tea Estate and had a tour of the plant and learned how tea is processed.

Darjeeling is one of the stops on the historic Himalayan Railway featuring toy trains. It would have been an eight hour ride up which is why we opted for the three hour jeep ride into town, but we did take the train down one morning to the town of Ghum just to experience the toy train. We also spent one afternoon rafting on the River Teesta. A few of the pictures from the train and the rafting trip are in my previous post.

One of my favorite experiences in India was learning how to make Tibetan dumplings ("momos") at Hot Stimulating Cafe. I will be posting all about this experience including the recipe in my next post.

Darjeeling was my favorite, and I could have spent many more than four days there. The people were friendly, the tea was delicious, and we made acquaintances with several other travelers. The shopping there was better than the other places, with lots of small shops to choose from with fixed rate prices (which was a relief after some unsuccessful haggling in Delhi). We bought Tibetan handicrafts, pashminas, tea, and jewelry to bring home. Of all of the places that I visited in India, Darjeeling is the only place I could ever see myself returning to. But of course there are still many other places in India, and in the world, that I would like to visit.

As a most excellent way to end my journey I turned 27 just as I was boarding the 16 hour flight home. I traveled back in time through 11.5 time zones, meaning for me, March 22, 2010 was 35.5 hours long. The longest day of my life made for one memorable birthday.

Thanks for sticking with me through that long-winded post. We will be getting back to food around here, and soon!

20 comments:

  1. Your trip sounds amazing, your experience at the Taj Mahal is like so many I've heard from Americans in Eastern countries, you're a star! Can't wait to read the next recap!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sounds like a great trip. Sorry to hear what happenend in Dehli. I was spared much of that since I was traveling with someone from India. But I have seen the same thing happen in Venice and Paris so I think it is universal, sadly.

    Can't wait to see your nest post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Awesome post- sounds like an amazing trip. I love the pic of you with the baby; I can't believe someone just handed you a baby! Haha.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This sounds incredible. I haven't been to India, one day I will have to make the trip... but I think the less touristy places would probably suit me better :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wonderful post. Thanks for taking the time to share!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I loved reading about this trip. You are brave to have taken on a challenging, but ultimately rewarding, country. I look forward to more!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for sharing writing about your India experience. I'm planning a trip to India for later in the year and have very mixed feelings about it. Part of me is very excited to take in all of the beautiful sights and try local food. The other half of me is scared to death of all of the dangers and chaos. It sounds like Darjeeling is a great place to visit. I hope I'll have a chance to go there.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for your pictures! I was just in India in December, so I know exactly what you're saying about Delhi, but we had a wonderful trip. (My boyfriend even proposed at the Taj Mahal!) We headed west instead, through Jaipur and Jodhpur and ending up on a camel safari in Jaisalmer, which was amazing. I wish we had made it to Darjeeling, though.

    Jill: My advice is just to prepare as much as you can ahead of time (including pre-booking your train tickets). If you have a very specific plan that's already been lined up, (including having people meet you at airports and train stations to pick you up) you're less likely to get scammed.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Truly amazing, and those photos are just so lovely. Makes me really want to go traveling out there myself! Thanks for sharing your adventures. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow! I love the part about the Indian tourists taking pictures of you guys and making you hold that baby! Hilarious. It sounds like y'all had a great time. I'd love to go to India someday!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I LOVE this post! You made me feel like I was really there. India is such a country of contrasts, the hustle and bustle and chaos of Delhi, the peaceful scene you show of Darjeeling, so much to see and take in. I can understand how it is still stuck in your mind. It looks like you have a beautiful time. Thank you for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  12. LOVED this post, Sarah! I was on the edge of my seat all the way. It was wonderful to hear/see your perspective on a land of many things. I think it would be a hard trip in some ways, but still dream of going! Thank you! :o)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love that second photo! That little girl is too darn precious.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This was a beautiful post, but I really want to comment on your cats since they so mirror my cats!! I have an older girl who is the same grey tabby color, and then a younger boy, who is the same orange/blonde color, and he is also of Eastern European descent (at least we pretend), his name is Ivan, hehe. I just thought it was funny how similar out kitty situation seems to be!!

    ReplyDelete
  15. i can't imagine how overwhelming, awesome, and amazing India is. wow! my head would be spinning a little in the airport as well, and in the streets with so much traffic, people, and animals.... that's crazy about stray dogs everywhere, especially when we're so used to seeing people walking them on leashes. sorry that the cooking class was a bit disappointing, but that's great that you were able to take something away from it, fo 'sho. the Taj Mahal is stunning, too funny on the Indian tourists wanting to take pictures of you both. the one of you laughing with the baby made me smile! all the wildlife in India is amazing - i'm glad you didn't encounter any tigers, and the monkey is the cutest! i don't think i've ever seen a tea bush before; Darjeeling sounds fantastical - and hooray for learing to make tibetan dumplings. i'm looking forward to your post about them and all the foods you enjoyed on your visit!

    ReplyDelete
  16. wow must be hard to settle back home after such amazing experiences - was lovely to hear about it - I would love to go to india but I suspect armchair travel (laptop travel) might be as close as I get

    ReplyDelete
  17. Well-written and beautiful! I'm sure you have a million stories from the trip; thanks for sharing this here :)

    ReplyDelete
  18. You seem to have had a wonderful trip. If I go to India, I'll make a special effort to go to Darjeeling, it sounds amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Being an Indian, and having lived in Delhi a great part of my life, I was really curious to read about your experience. It is refreshing to see my world through another lens. When I first came to US, I thought the people were very non-friendly and suspicious. Especially since a guy called the police on me because I stopped to talk to his child in a Walmart! I was so used to being given a baby to hold if the bus was over crowded, or the baby's mom just needed a moment to catch her breath. A very well written piece. Am not sure about you, but I still love Delhi.

    ReplyDelete