Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RTW #2: India

1 August 2017

Series of Unfortunate Events
I was laying all the cards in the table and I decided to leave Bangkok airport and spend an hour or two in Bangkok city centre. I do have 6 hour window before my next flight. I already have my boarding pass so I don’t think it is all that risky.

To my horror, the immigration queue was horrendous. I can’t believe I forgot how many tourists visit Bangkok. So an hour out of the window. I am then left with 5 hours (less 45 minutes travel time). I decided I will get a relaxing massage. Then go back to the airport. This should be more than enough so I can relax in the lounge prior to the flight.

But then again, my connnection back to the Airport got f*ckedup. I ended up stranded in Siam for an hour or even more. At 9:30 pm, I still haven’t left Siam. I know that 10:30 pm is the departure time and I needed to board by 9:50 pm. I can’t do anything because even if I take a cab. I would just get stuck at traffic. So I decided to give up and started calling Thai Airways to know my remedies. And of course to ensure I have my luggage with me and not go through to Mumbai.

I arrived 10:29 pm. I can’t be The Flash and speed through the plane within a minute. So I wrote it off and decided to ensure two things happen even before I eat... a. I need to ensure I get my bag and b. I need to ensure I get a flight directly to Delhi. The thing with booking complex itineraries is that one mistake can lead to complete disaster. Domino effect on all the reservations. So I just had to let go of seeing Mumbai. And hope for the best that I will arrive Delhi safe and meet my brother.
To make the long story short. I got my luggage with me and I had booked Spicejet. Not anything related to the Spice Girls but I reckon passengers do love their spices and I hope they don’t perspire too much. Otherwise, I might get my first knockout punch and die of suffocation.

When all things were settled I called my brother and to my horror. So many unfortunate things also happened to him. Oh well, even how hard you plan – some things can still go wrong. He wasn’t able get the car that we hired. So I had to make sure that I will be very mobile when I travel around India. I have 65” luggage with 20kgs to drag along the streets of India. So I had to repack and think of things I will be bringing. I thought of this while stucked in Bangkok so I did buy my backpack and cap (to hide the drenched head –from sweat due to stressing). I ate in a nice japanese restaurant and did my repacking there.

Funny that I brought a lot. Thinking that having a car- I can enjoy the luxury of having so many clothes. But now, such a pity that I can only bring so much. Total disaster but a big adventure lies ahead in discovering why India is indeed Incredible India.

2 August 2017

All efforts to go to India
Spicejet is not so bad! Minus the ignorant ground staff (who says I have an invalid indian visa) all is good. The ignorant girl that I hate so much didn’t even apologies for her mistake. She even dared to ask me, are you sure you haven’t been to India given that you have BKK-BOM boarding pass with you? Far out! I told her the reason I booked Spicejet is obvious because I missed my flight! She so stupid that she can’t even skim through my BP to know that if I indeed went to BOM, then I wouldn’t be here. I would be in a staralliance flight!

And of course, what more can you expect after checking-in. The massive cattle towards Thailand Immigration. Never pick a queue just because it’s short. Study the turnaround and who is the officer processing it. I got stuck in the queue just because officer is oldie and very strict. One hour just to queue and leave BKK. Seems like Thailand wants me on their country and India is like the holy grail. Anyway, sleepless I managed to board Spicejet. 99% were from India. With all the debacle of getting through this flight. Somehow the silver-lining is there and I did come to appreciate the funny ways how their lifestyle works. One, they check-in in packs! Like minimum 5 and can even be 7 or 8. I reckon they do want to maximise their baggage allowance. Poor check-in lady, was shy and calm at first but now she was shouting at them just because they insist to bring the gigantic barbie doll (don’t ask me why – ROFL). Second, I saw a lot of head-shaking rituals. I saw a lot of staring in my direction. They do stare a lot. Finally, everyone is just in a hurry to get in the plane even if their way at the end of the zone in boarding.

I did sleep well due to stress and the good aroma of spices that Spicejet has to offer. But its a good experience as I wake up with the sweltering heat of Delhi and unusual stench that goes through your skin whilst you walk the busy chaotic streets of Delhi.

Delhi at first sight
I learned a lot from my brother’s horrific stories and some blogs I read before to be careful at Airports esp at DEL. So I did my own investigation on the cab prices to the centre. It can be as cheap as 600 rupees or as expensive as 2000 rupees (all in *accdg to them). I said I was waiting for my brother who is picking me up. I know that even thought they say 600INR. I will endup not getting in to my intended destination because they do get commission if they show me to different hotel or to tourist shops. So no thank you guys. I manage to get the cheaper alternative which is the Airport Express. Quick 25 minutes and I am at the New Delhi station. I left my luggage at the airport and paid 400 rupees upfront balance of 1400 rupees when I claim it after 4 days.

The streets of New Delhi is not what I was expecting. So many beggars. Skinny dark people. Toots asking me to ride their rickshaw. And all eyes were on me. I was like a prey in horrid jungle. Soon as I was out of the station I googled my way to the bus. I then realise that instead of riding bus, I will just map it and walk it. As I walk viciously – I saw lots of locals sleeping by the street with dirty torn clothes. Some where gambling. Others were shouting through to their conversation because of the beeping noise everyone (i mean every vehicle makes). The deafening noise made me walk even faster. I spoke to my brother and told him to meet me at Delhi Gate station. And what a relief once I finally saw him. It’s like he did survive a big war and I was just in the middle of it.

It’s just an eye opener but as I am writing this. It’s not too bad. You learn a lot by seeing the worse. Eventually you will get used to it and feel at ease. Because deep down inside, Indian locals are not all bad. The reason they are so aggressive is that because they are in desperate need. I meet a local who did tell me a lot of tips and tricks and I am thankful for her kindness.
Looking for Tou-Bu
Much like the amazing race, this is unforgettable struggle to find Tourist Bureau. For some reasons, they seem to have hidden the location so far from the Metro Railway Station and you have to walk deeper and realise that it does exist. We manage to book all our train tickets throughout our stay in India. Rest a bit and finally wait for the train ride to see the Majestic Taj Mahal.

Ancient Indian Railway Express
The first impression of the train was something I've never anticipated. I did ask myself whether it was indeed First Class. The design was really old nonetheless it is authentic. This is the feeling I was entirely looking forward to. Think 'Slumdog Millionaire' or 'Lion'. When we went to the Tourist Bureau we ensured with get the right mix of First and Economy class. For what's it worth, I enjoyed the latter. For one, I was looking to immerse in the infamous culture. I did learn a thing or two about them. First, there is definitely a caste system I see while waiting for our trains. Second, they are friendly and can be clingy. When you refuse their generosity, you will definitely feel how you have let them down. My brother can attest to this. A young mother offered her sit to me and I took it and was happy initially. But then her daughter was so friendly that I later decided to vacate the seat when the sit next to my brother was finally vacant. I needed some rest to be honest. But she took it really hard. She keeps on talking in Urdu but I don't understand what she was trying to say. Her body language says everything that she was really upset and it made her day worse.

The Majestic Taj Mahal
No words can describe the beauty and magnificence that Shah Jahan has built for Mumtaz Mahal took 22 years and 22,000 workers. It was so tranquil early in the morning to see a glimpse of sun rising in the east. To this day, I am proud of this moment and I am boasting my panoramic shot in my Facebook cover page.

The story as you know was that the Mughal empire during Shah Jahan's time was at its grandeur. He has a lot of women in his life but her one true love is Mumtaz Mahal and in her honour, he built this elaborate mausoleum for her. Eventually he was overthrown and went to prison in Agra Fort. Eventually when he died he was reunited with Mumtaz Mahal at the Taj Mahal and they are together in the other world. True love at its finest, I reckon.

Agra at its best
The best experiences happen in unplanned discovery of the culture. We walked... walked.. and walked. We tried to avoid rickshaw at all cost. We know how they can be a pain to negotiate. But we later realised that if you don't get a private one, it will only cost you 5 rupees instead of the 100 rupees they often charge you just because you are a foreigner. We met lots of locals along the way. From street food, chai maker, ceramic maker. All of them have a story to tell. About their ambition, going to New Delhi and looking for something better. But they do pride themselves living in Agra and meeting people from all over and admiring the Taj Mahal. It can be taboo in other cultures but in India its a mixture of everything. Love defines no boundaries, indeed. We met an old woman selling bracelets and earrings (too ethnic, I reckon) and I thought she was with her son. Later she told us that the guy is her boyfriend (for crying out loud). and we saw two guys holding hands like its their honeymoon. Then later he said that he likes guys. So this was a surprise for me. I originally thought that LGBT community exists mostly in urban world. But this it only validates Lady Gaga's song 'Born This Way'. 

Finally, we tried street food that I honestly have a bad memory as to their names, hence I will describe it instead. Their is this egg like thin crunchy (sort of like pork crackles) and once they break the edge they put lots of onion and some spices. Then pour some liquid like vinegar. It tastes like armpit (really!?!). Anyway, what I did enjoy is their Indian burger and a noodle like (Hokkien type) with spices that makes it yellowish. The shocking thing is, they use their bare hands to put in a plate. And to top it all of, we ate it near the sewage for added aroma and distinct smell. It was indeed an experience.

Pink City to complete the Golden Triangle
Anyone visiting India and doing their homework would definitely know the Golden Triangle. It starts with New Delhi going down towards Agra and then moving upwards west to Jaipur. The city is known for the pink city because it literally is coloured Pink as you visit the city centre you will see that the old structure has a touch of pink!

The city is not commonly known especially if you don’t do your research. This is where the film Marigold Hotel 2 was shot. Also, I would have known that this part of India is rich in culture and I would have stayed longer given the handsight.

Normally I would shy away to talk to people around me but since I was travelling with my brother somehow I developed the art of talking. Everyone was really engaging . Soon after I realised I was already playing cricket. This is also where I bought my Majin Bu shirt. The place we walked relentlessly exhausting our energy to find everything that google recommends. Unfortunately we were beaten, the sun came down. But then again, we saw the Albert Museum all lit and what a spectacle it is at night.

Finally this is the place where I realised that we can pass looking like Northern Indian. Apparently we look like we came from the Northwest part of India. At least I can consider learning Urdu next time and pay local prices.

Rahjastan and the Prince of dessert
We officially reached the most exciting part of India: Udaipur and Pushkar.  Not to be so biased about it but this is my favourite part. Not only because Jaipur was too short. Agra was too touristy. Or New Delhi too much of a chaos. Rahjastan is where everything is culturally rich and vibrant. We learnt a thing or two about Hinduism as we met Brahma brothers in the lake overseeing Brahma temple. We got anointed and few prayers were mentioned about our frustrations, healing and our longing and aspirations. It was so enriching that made me pick this specific time and place as a favourite in India.

Another highlight for us is the camel ride into the desert waiting for the sunset. It was such a surprise as we also got a special treat for us, which is to wear the national costume of Rahjastani. It was colourful beaded and elaborate. We look so authentic if only we have our flying carpet!

To end our Indian journey, there was a festival of Brahma and the small city uphill becomes alive. Perhaps too many people at one place consuming huge amount of energy that resulted in so many power outage. We decided to enjoy the company of our co-guests and our host. A lovely chat would always get rid of thinking what better to do than not to sleep if the night is young and its pitch black.

It all turns out well for us in the end and we were able to enjoy our stay in Rahjastan. The elusive traveller in us did enjoy the market and  I tried an authentic Aruvyedic Indian massage too. Chai drinking at its finest. More street food. Brilliant locals that put a lot of spice in our everyday stay in Pushkar. We left very early to catch our train back to Udaipur and to New Delhi given short waiting time but we made it. And we have smiles in our faces thinking about this profound cultural experience that is in Incredible India.

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