I really don't even know where to begin. India is so different from all the other countries we've been to. It's been the most challenging country so far, as well. Pretty much anything involving money becomes a struggle at some point. My friend Jenny met up with me and Monica for a month while we travel through India and Nepal--it's been great to have another member of our group. We've become a team, sticking together against the face of our odds, against the people who try to cheat and scam and stare at us.
I don't want to paint an entirely negative picture, because there is a lot to love about this country, but being a white, female traveler here is difficult, at least in the northern part of the country, where we've been for the last two weeks.
|Snake charmers outside one of the many forts we visited in Rajasthan.|
|Arrival: the Delhi airport.|
|A glimpse of what it's like in India: ~90% men on the streets and outside of homes, in general. The ladies stay cooped up inside.|
More and more men started turning up and joining the circle around us until we were forced to completely cover ourselves (faces too!) with our scarves. It's a horrible feeling.
In addition to the Animal Planet "Feeding In the Wild" episode that was occurring, there were about one hundred rats per square foot on the train tracks, and one billion birds above the train tracks making awful, deafening bat-like squeaking sounds. Oh, also there were mosquitoes swarming around our bodies. At this point, I realized out loud, "this is hell."
|This guy took a photo of me, so I thought it only fair to reciprocate.|
|This family asked to take a group shot with Jenny.|
I was called:
1. Shakira (Jenny was also called Shakira at one point, so it became less cool.)
2. An angel
3. My favorite: a fairy!
Jenny was also likened to a famous Indian actress, but I forget her name.
Mostly, all the men thought Monica was a beautiful Indian woman, and they all wanted to marry her.
In Delhi, we booked a two-week road trip through northern India because it seemed like the best and easiest option. Our route was Delhi--Mandawa--Bikaner--Kuhri--Jaisalmer--Jodhpur--Pushkar--Jaipur--Fatehpur Sikri--Agra--Varanasi. It turned out really great; I'm so glad we had the luxuries of a car and driver, and hotel rooms booked for us in advance. It made the already somewhat stressful experience of being in India so much better. (Internet is very difficult to find here so booking hotels in advance and doing research would have been very challenging while we were on the road.)
|Our safe driver, Jai.|
|Transporting an enormous amount of hay.|
India is hot! I bet it was over 100 degrees most of the days we've been here.
|This photo says it all: hot, uncomfortable and covered up! But still somehow enjoying ourselves...|
|These are all for me.|
|Camel startling Monica.|
Another fun fact: India takes things very seriously when it comes to entering the country or checking into a hotel. Below, notice the larger-than-life registration book, which is quite common at Indian hotels. Filling that thing out was more painful than the medical information forms new doctors require.
|We're not trying to immigrate, I swear!|
Cows are considered a sacred animal for people of the Hindu faith, which is the dominant religion in India. No one would ever get angry with a cow for crossing the road at an inconvenient time, eating vegetables from their stand, shitting on their foot, etc.
|I saw these around India sporadically. They use the money to buy food for the cows.|
|Bummer. I was feelin' a double cheeseburger...|
That brings me to Indian toilets. Don't expect to find any toilet paper, nor even a water sprayer hose like you find in most parts of Southeast Asia. Here, you find a spigot and a small bucket to clean yourself. (We always carry our own roll of toilet paper with us.)
Squat toilets are most common, but this was a new design (below): if you want, you can lift the toilet seat and stand on the ledge of the toilet rim to do your business. I imagine some people have had perilous accidents involving this toilet design.
India is not quite the peaceful place of yoga and meditation I had imagined, but we did get a chance to do a quick photo shoot at a palace...
Money is responsible for a lot of the hassles encountered when traveling through India. I could write a book on this, but it would be boring so I won't go much into it. Thinking about what we've been through actually starts to make my blood boil a little at this point in our trip, so I'm going to spare myself from thinking about it too deeply right now. Jenny does a wonderful job of capturing some of our experiences in her blog post.
"Being sold to" is a huge part of being a tourist, and we caved and let them have a go with us at a bunch of different shops: fabric, clothing, wood-block printing, rug weaving, and marble, to name a few. Experienced salesmen work in these shops. They offer you a cup of chai masala tea or Coke. They give you a demonstration of the process, and then they bring out the goods. Usually, if your driver took you to the shop, he will get a cut of whatever you end up spending at the store.
The caste system is still in effect, and it was quite apparent when we visited the Taj Mahal. To get in, we had to wait in a line (the foreigner, female line to be exact). Ahead of us was the Indian female line. Ahead of that group was the foreign male line, followed by the Indian lower-class male and then finally the Indian upper-class male. We were lowest on the totem pole.
Also of note: foreigners pay 750 rupees ($15 USD) for the entry ticket while Indians pay a mere 20 rupees (about 45 cents).
|Foreigners even have separate entrances.|
But I think we're all happy to say we're in Nepal now! We're in a little town called Lumbini just across the border, the town where Buddha was born.