Sunday, November 20, 2011

In which there will be Tigers

Since Kolkata we have been to Delhi and Jaipur. I have not had a good internet connection so I have not been able to update the blog or upload any new pictures. I am currently using the one office computer at the hotel we are staying at in Rathambore. We are right outside the wildnerness reserve and taking 2 daily safaris into the reserve in hopes of seeing some tigers. So far we have only seen Sambar Deer, Spotted Deer, Langur Monkeys, and some neat birds. We have 2 more Safaris tomorrow so fingers crossed we will see either a tiger or a leopard. People saw a mom leopard with 2 cubs yesterday in a different zone from us so hopefully they move to our zone. Once we leave here we will be heading to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. A climatic close to this 5 week journey.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


The most noticeable difference in this city is the noise. Talking to each other on the street is difficult, we have to shout over the honking of the taxis, which is constant. It is a very crowded and fast paced city.

The area we are staying in is very nice. It has a lot of shops and great restaurant options, but outside of this area things are very different. There are more street food vendors that crowd the sidewalks and more people using the well pumps to take their baths. The people are still helpful and kind, but in a less friendly way, which probably has a lot to do with the crowding.

We have enjoyed our time here overall though, and have enjoyed some delicious food including a popular Kati roll that is ubiquitous street food.

There is a large open space in the center of the city known as a Maidan. It is a place for people to relax and enjoy some space:

The Indian Museum is said to be one of the largest in South Asia. It is in a lovely building, but there is not actually a lot to see. I was hoping for more artifacts from the many cultures that make up the country's history. Here is the courtyard at the museum:

This guy just doesn't care:

For a reason that neither of us were able to determine there was a "Pen and Pencil" exhibit:

Near Calcutta University:

Walking on the sidewalk down the main street is challenging with the hawkers lining both sides. Often we would opt to try our luck walking in the street with many other people who wanted to avoid the browsers who stop to bargain. This is even more of a challenge in Kolkata then it has been in previous cities for us as the driving here is much more aggressive and the drivers pay very little attention to things like red lights.

The Kali temple is a very high energy place crowded with devotees of all types and many beggars who sit in rows with their hands out hoping for a few rupees to fall into them. Animal sacrifices are still conducted at the temple which I was fully aware of before visiting, however I am not sure I was fully prepared. While walking around the courtyard we saw a small puppy chewing on what turned out to be the scalp and horns of a black goat. The devotees of MAA Kali sacrifice only black goats for her. Through the fence I noticed 2 baby goats with red flower garlands hanging around their necks, I watched for a while until a large man grabbed on of the goats roughly. The baby goat made a bleating noise that sounded to me exactly like crying and I am sure I will hear it again as I sleep. Intellectually I can accept cultural and religious differences but apparently my heart could not and tears involuntarily rolled down my cheeks. As we got a bit further from the temple Matt asked if Kali was still one of my favorites, and I decided she was.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Home of Bollywood

Mumbai is a small city in terms of size, the widest part of South Mumbai is only 3 miles. Most of the things to see and do are in South Mumbai so it made it easy to get around and not worry too much about getting lost. Although in that small area there are A LOT of people. The traffic in the city is intense and luckily the tuk tuks are not allowed in the center which alleviates some of the congestion. 

I had specific things that I wanted to do while in Mumbai: 1) see a Bollywood movie, preferably one with Shahruhk Khan in it; 2) sit on Chowpatty beach in the evening; 3) visit the Elephanta Caves; and 4) see the Gate of India. I am very happy to say that we were able to do all of them. On our first day here we wandered around to get our bearings and came across the Eros movie theater which was showing only one movie, RA-ONE starring Shahrukh Kahn. I was very excited, we bought our tickets for the balcony and the ticket seller informed us that there were no subtitles. I wasn't concerned about that at all because it was an action movie so it wouldn't be difficult to follow and a lot of Bollywood movies today are in Hinglish so we are able to understand most conversations. One of the best parts was the intermission when people get snacks of Samosas and popcorn in the middle of the movie. 

Our hotel was right next to the Gate of India, in fact our room had a view of it. We stayed at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel which was built in 1903 by Tata in response to another luxury hotel that restricted his access because of racism. Our room was gorgeous:

On the first night we spent some time enjoying the lovely hotel bar:

The museum in Mumbai is in an amazing building and was originally called the Prince of Wales museum. It is only 10 rupees for Indian Nationals to enter, but 300 rupees for each of us as foreigners. it housed miniature paintings from the Mughal period and some interesting artifacts from the people of Tibet. The natural history section left a lot to be desired. 

We visited Malabar Hill which is a posh part of town and took a taxi to something they call the Hanging Gardens, even though we couldn't find anything actually hanging. The same gardens have what is called the Towers of Silence at the north end of the park. These towers are where some members of the Jain religion leave the bodies of their deceased to be devoured by vultures. One of our taxi drivers told us that he has had eyes and fingers drop on his car when he was parked there. 

We walked down from Malabar Hill and along Marine Drive to Chowpatty Beach where locals come to enjoy the cool breeze after work. There are people playing in the sea fully clothed, chaiwallahs, beggars, lovers, and other peddlers. The tide was low and the shore full of trash. There are not many trash cans for use by the public and when there are, the people don't seem to care about using them.  

One night for dinner we ate at Masala Kraft in the Taj Palace. It was delicious!

From the Gate of India we caught a Ferry over to the Elephanta Caves where there are carvings for the worship of Shiva in his many forms. No one knows exactly who built the caves which makes them even that much more intriguing.

Families bring picnic lunches and relax on the island, which attracts monkeys who steal their food. Of course people are not supposed to feed the wild monkeys, but they do. I took 15 pictures of the monkeys while we were at the caves, which Matt found amusing. This one is enjoying an ice cream someone gave to it:

This little girl was my favorite, she is scratching her chin and looking right at me like she is thinking about little actions.

This goat was begging for chips from these guys having a snack, sometimes they gave her some. 

Apparently, I like having my picture taken with the animals

This cow was minding her own business until she saw some people walking by with Corn on the Cob and she quickly caught up to them and followed them closely to their surprise. I am not sure I have ever seen a cow move so fast.

Around our hotel and Marine Drive, these silver carriages pull tourists around and at night the rope lighting they are covered in is turned on which creates quite the visual.

On our drive to the airport our driver insisted we stop to see the clothes washing which is done by men. Apparently, all of the city's laundry is done here and it is a factory of sorts without automatic washing machines. Anytime you drop your clothes of at a cleaner's store front they will get sent here. We could see hotel and catering uniforms among other things. It was an interesting site.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Only 14 days left

our flight is delayed from Mumbai to Kolkata, luckily the Mumbai airport is incredibly nice so it is not a terrible place to spend a few hours. as with everything in india though there is an odd almost uncomfortable contrast when you look out over the tarmac and see one of asia's largest slums. The people of Mumbai are so used to the slums and their 8 million inhabitants that they talk about them in a matter of fact manner. On the drive to the airport the driver kept pointing them out and while we were staying in Mumbai we saw adds for slum tours which would guide you through them. Now i don't think the people should be ignored but i couldn't imagine walking through the narrow walkways gawking at their way of life.  The most expensive house in the world is also located here. It is 27 stories tall for a family of 5 according to  a taxi driver we had. the presence of the skyscraper house angered him. he felt it should not be in the city for so many of the poor people to see. even though these are all truths, there is so much beauty here and we cannot believe we only have 14 days left, it is going by much too quickly. i wrote this on my phone so i apologize for mistypings.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


We arrived in Goa 2  days ago. This state is very different from the others due to the fact that Portugal was here for 451 years until the Indian government "liberated" the people here in 1961, although some Goans still refer to it as the "invasion". The influence of the Portuguese can be seen in many ways. First of all it is a less conservative state in regards to dress, treatment of women, and alcohol consumption. Secondly, the architecture is distinct from other parts of Southern India we have been to so far as it is much more European in appearance.  Our room is on the 4th floor of the Sandalwood Inn near Dona Paula. We have a suite with vaulted ceilings and far more space than we need. I got a great deal on the room by booking early online. Although the good deal may also be due to the fact that our room overlooks a sewage treatment plant. 

We are a short walk from the Arabian Sea which is very warm although that is not too surprisingly because even when it rains here it doesn't get much below 80 degrees. It is less humid here in Goa though which is a nice change although it is hotter. 

Yesterday we ventured over to Old Goa which has 7 old churches/cathedrals built by the Portuguese in a very small area. The stray dogs in India are part of everything. They roam everywhere. here is one taking a nap on a monument built in 1661 to honor St. Francis Xavier.

The mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier are on display inside the church for all to see and devotees come from far and wide to see him. Here he is:

Here are 2 Cathedrals right next to each other. 

This is me in front of a church built for St. Catherine by Albuquerque 

The ruins of the Church of St. Augustine which was originally built in 1602. It was abandoned in 1835 because of a decree from the government.

Filming was taking place in the ruins while we were there. An actor was lip syncing to a song, unfortunately he was not anyone I recognized but it was still neat to see the process. Craft services is not quite the same as it is back home. 

A front view of the Se Cathedral:

The Viceroy arch with Vasco De Gama on one side

As we wandering around the city trying to stay in the shade to avoid the heat we came across this abandoned  rusted ship in a small harbor.

A wedding has been taking place in our hotel for the last few days which I really enjoyed being so close to. Matt noticed this wooden junction box they were using to bring electricity to different parts of the lawn. It may explain some of the multiple power outages we have been having.

After a nice swim in the Arabian Sea we both felt refreshed and happy

For dinner we took a taxi over to Panjim. After walking around the city, which is probably my favorite so far, we came across an atmospheric Punjab restaurant that appealed to us both. We noticed an item labeled chilly cheese naan and couldn't resist. I think we made a mistake though because it was one of the most delicious things we have ever tasted. They baked the cheese and chiles into the naan like an Indian quesadilla. 

In Panjim we saw this church and I really liked the neon cross on top. I don't know anything about the church though.

After some time in the pool this morning we returned to our room to this cute towel design. 

Kerala - Part 2 (Houseboating)

After Munnar we drove another 6 hours to get to Allepy where we met up with te crew running the houseboat that would be ours for the day and night. We had a driver and a chef on board. They welcomed us with a coconut to drink from. With the coconut water craze in full swing back home I am sure most people have tasted it by now. It is acquired and not as sweet as the coconut flavor we are used to, but it is refreshing and thirst quenching, not to mention safe to drink. 

The houseboats are converted rice barges of varying sizes. We saw some 2 story mansions with multiple bedrooms and showers, it was crazy. Ours was a modest 1 bedroom boat with the added advantage of being able to make it down some of the smaller channels in the backwaters, I think it was the better deal. Life on the backwaters is unique. People rely mainly on fishing and working the rice fields. The river is the source for everything from cooking and washing dishes and clothes, to bathing and brushing teeth. 

These backwaters were beautiful and relaxing, it was difficult not to want to lay there forever.

The river/lake was higher than the rice paddies in the back giving some homes the appearance of floating.

Our driver actually lived in a village on the backwaters so when we docked for the night he was actually able to go home to sleep while our cook stayed on the boat with us. 

When we docked Matt and I went for a walk that took us by a Toddy bar. Toddy is a palm liquor that is consumed by about 80% of the Keralan residents and the working men definitely get drunk. As we walked by the crowd of men one them, titled "The Mayor of Toddy Town" by Matt, approached us and shook Matt's hand informing us the Matt and I were fine. His eyes were glazed over and Matt had to physically pry his hand away, but it was a sweet encounter that amused everyone around. On our walk we also stopped to view the growing rice closer and take a quick picture.

Once it was time to retire to our room we started making some interesting discoveries. There was a type of sawdust on the pillows which I realized was termite droppings. We weren't too concerned by this so we went on getting ready for bed and as we were dozing of I woke Matt to help me identify the beetle making a cool and creepy whistling noise and as he did, he jumped up because a mouse was by his head. The lizards on the boat were awesome cause they were eating the bugs but the mouse by our heads took some getting used to before we fell back to sleep. The bonus was that it was a cute little grey mouse. 

The morning greeted us with this beautiful view and the sounds of roosters excited by the day break. Overall it was a great experience and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.