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Holy Holi!

Jodhpur - Jaipur - Rishikesh - Shimla

overcast 15 °C

Here we go. This will catch me up!

The morning we left Jodhpur, we were up around 5:30am to get a tuk tuk to the train station. Little did we know when we arrived, we were at the wrong train station so in a moment of panic we fortunately hired another tuk tuk to take us to the right spot. But the panic didn't quite subside there, we go to our train and got on the car we thought was ours to find it deserted so Derek took off running down the platform (they are REALLY long trains) until he found our names posted on the list at the correct car. So we grabbed our bags and ran down to find our seats. Derek and I were in the 2AC class (2nd class with AC) and Tracy and Neil were in the 3AC class (3rd class with AC). We couldn't sit together only because of the limited seats they have for foreigners but we lucked out because the train was pretty much empty. Derek and I had 1 other person in the whole car and no one in our little bunk area. Tracy and Neil on the other hand started out in their seats but with a family beside them and shrieking children, then the family would ask them to explain the story of Christmas to them (which might've been a bit of a stretch haha) and gave them cheese (which I think they ate and survived) and then they moved to another cabin to get a little peace and quiet. As Derek and I slept through most of the 8 hour trip, they ended up having some company - a man sat with them who was some type of 'healer' that claims he is able to cure cancer and other illness (there's no way) but he also paints these traditional miniature paintings. Derek went to visit Tracy and Neil and met this man who also spoke French so they talked for a bit before the man awkwardly tried to sell him the paintings... Derek tried to be as polite as possible and said no and came back to our car. There we are, reading quietly with our curtain closed and who comes popping in but this man again! So I met him and he gave me a brochure on his 'healing' practices and also offered to bring his paintings down and I had to say no... always so awkward! Tracy told me after that he read her fortune or something along those lines as well.

We land in Jaipur and get picked up to head to our homestay - All Seasons Guesthouse. I would absolutely recommend it for anyone travelling here. It was a family who ran it and it was connected to their beautiful home. They had 4 rooms they rented out and were just stunning with a little garden in the back. We had our usual 'welcome tea' and then the owner's personal driver dropped us off at this 'fast food' place - the first floor was this awesome bakery, the second floor was the 'fast food' which is really just healthy Asian/Indian foods that can be made quickly, not fast food like how we think of it! Back to the homestay we went and the first night the 4 of us stayed in 1 room together (sleepover!) because there wasn't another room available until the next night. We also had a debate about a certain scene in the Wedding Singer movie which Tracy and I won against Derek when we called Maria to make the call. Haha

The next morning we had an amazing breakfast in the owner's house (chickpea masala with bread, fruit, tea), headed out to the area near the old city to the market to buy Holi powders (the natural dried flower type so it wasn't toxic), headed to the actual old city which was pretty gross and smelly. They were emptying a sewer so it made the whole area stink pretty badly. Before we left, we did get to try this sweet orange desert from a street vendor, looked like a funnel cake in design but was a harder sugary type of food. It was pretty good! Then we were out of there quickly. We ended up meeting up with our friend Rosie (from the UK) and had lunch at this place called Ganesh, did a little shopping, back to our homestay and went to the infamous elephant parade which precedes the Holi festival by 1 day. Unfortunately for the parade, animal rights activists had protested the use of animals in the parade so the decision was made the day before to exclude the elephants. Not saying that I disagree with their decision but it made the parade a little boring. Plus it was difficult to see over everyone standing up in front of you! But they did have some great music and different tribes that represented various regions of India. Also, we ran into Huw and Marlee at the parade (our new friends from Australia) so the 7 of us went to a chocolate shop called Nibbs (delicious!) and indulged in a few things (I had the chocolate brownie shake - ahhh! So good!). Outside of the chocolate shop we noticed that people were building these straw like teepees with different things placed on them, we found out later that for the Holi celebration these are burned at night. I wish we got to see that! That evening the crew of us went to have some dinner and then to our first Bollywood movie - now that was an experience. It was super cheap ($1.00 for a popcorn and drink, tickets were about $1.00) and the theater was so nice with the exception of the massive rat that ran across the floor of the lobby and under the next bench... ughhhh. The rats here are HUGE and disgusting.

We head in the theater (we had assigned seating - amazing) and of course get all the stares of people. It never ends! The staring, taking pictures of us, it's like we're these never seen creatures. I guess there aren't a ton of foreigners that come here compared to other countries but it does get a bit annoying. We joke around about what they do with our pictures - put them in an album to show people that come over about all the white people they've seen? haha. So we start watching this movie which has no English subtitles but you can pretty easily follow along. The difference between watching movies at home and here is that people cheer and clap at different scenes. The men hoot and holler like crazy when women come on the screen. Babies in the audience are crying and it's totally normal because everyone else is talking or cheering. We left at intermission (they have that too!) and asked a local to take our group's photo - big mistake. The man didn't know how to use the camera and we attracted a crowd of men also taking our picture of about 20-25 people. We left before he took our picture and had it taken outside when no one was around. Oh the joys!

The next day was Holi! The festival of colors! We started with breakfast (amazing yet again - potato paranthas with plain yogurt) and then the family invited us to 'play' with them to celebrate Holi on their front yard before we headed to the group celebration at the government site. Huw and Marlee came over and the host family had all these powders, buckets of water, squirt guns ready for us and we had so much fun! Their son (about 10 years old) played with us too and he was adorable. Then both parents joined in! After about half an hour, the owner brought out trays of snacks and had to feed us because we were covered with water and powders - it was pretty funny. She went around popping these sweet desserts into our mouths. Haha. From here we walked about 15 minutes to the government celebration (which was free!) but en route we quickly realized the downside to these celebrations/festivals (like in any country) - the drunk and high local men/boys that just want to... how do I say it... feel you up while they douse you with powders. Ugh. There were several men who were so nice though and never did anything like that (obviously weren't intoxicated). It was kind of like New Year's celebrations I guess? Anyway, we get to the government celebrations and they have a band playing and tons of people in this little outdoor space - everyone is so happy, throwing powders, taking pictures, dancing! We had a blast! We stayed for a couple hours and then headed back to our homestay to clean up which took a while as you can imagine. Our shirts went in the garbage and we ended up just hanging out the rest of the day (ok I slept... the rest hung out with the host family). That evening we had dinner at the homestay (delicious yet again) and had our last night with Tracy and Neil before they left for Mumbai! The next morning we got up, had breakfast together and walked them to get a tuk tuk... it was so sad to see them leave! We wished they could have stayed for the rest of our time here but apparently they have to work. Hah.

We spent the rest of our last day in Jaipur booking travel tickets to get to Rishikesh (which is heading north towards the Himalayas) with Marlee and Huw. We took off early the next morning (5:30am) on a 4 1/2 hour train to Delhi where we got a taxi to the bus station. This was an experience in itself. The bus stations are all pretty disorganized and you never know where you're supposed to go as there's no actual ticket counter. This man asked where we were going, we said Rishikesh and he took us over this pedestrian bridge, down this random alley (we were wondering if we should turn back at this point) and finally to a tourist bus which would get us there in 7 hours. We jumped on, got our usual stares from locals and made the trek to Rishikesh where we had to take a tuk tuk for about an hour to get to the area where we wanted to stay. As we got in pretty late that evening, we had to settle for whatever was available so found some rooms at this hotel which actually had an amazing view and we bargained the staff down to about $26/night for a double room with bathroom. We really wanted to stay in some of the Swiss cottages around there and then next day spent too much time walking around, going over to the Ashram's via the pedestrian bridge which crosses the Ganges and realized that everything is booked up solid. Didn't realize how busy it was going to be coming north and then were told it's now summer vacation and lots of people in the south come north to get away from the heat. We ended up staying at the hotel for another night and the rest of the day we spent it over in the Ashram part of Rishikesh, went for a swim in the Ganges in this isolated area which was really clean and then went to this area on the river where every evening they have a Hindu ritual and tons of people crowd the stairs to witness everything go down. Not really sure what was happening but lots of prayers, people would light a candle in a little banana leaf boat with flowers and place it in the river. That was pretty neat! Overall though, not a huge fan of Rishikesh... maybe if we had planned it differently (or in advance).

As we couldn't book bus tickets at the tourist places, we had to get up at 5:00am the next day (getting really tired of these early mornings!) to take a tuk tuk the 1 hour to Haridwar to try to get a bus to Shimla. Turns out, there are only government buses available (think the most basic mode of transport for locals) and it's a 10 hour journey. We have no other option... the train would've meant we would be transferring 3 times in one day and we might've missed one transfer... Oh my god. The bus was horrible. The 4 of us got the last seats at the very back of the bus (the worst place to be because of the bumps) and the staring was at a maximum. The man sitting right in front of us literally turned all the way around and just stared at us most of the way. When you stare back, they never look away either. So think about someone staring at you sitting 1-2 feet away and they never lose their gaze when you look at them. CREEPY. When Derek brought out the iPod to play a game, he would lean right over and watch him. Makes you feel so uncomfortable. That wasn't the worst of it though! The first 3 hours of the trip, I swear we were on roads that had potholes every 1/2 foot. It was insane. There were several times when the 4 of us got about 1/2-1 foot of air from being bumped around so much. We were even yelling out a bit because we were being tossed around so much. I kept thinking, I can't do another 7 hours of this... when finally we got onto another road which was a little more decent.

We finally made it to Shimla and had to take a local bus to this area in order to walk to our hotel. It was all uphill which was interesting with our bags but we made it there and had a delicious dinner (it was Easter Sunday) of poached trout with a butter sauce, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and a homemade brownie with ice cream for dessert. It was so good! The 4 of us shared a room for the next 2 nights before moving closer to the actual town about 2.5kms away (which we walked as there are no tuk tuks and limited taxis here) and now we're at the YMCA! It's a lot cheaper, we get our own room and we are in the middle of this incredible town. It's hands down the best city we've been to yet. It's nestled in the amazing green mountains and we can see the snow capped Himalayas in the distance. It's like a Swiss-Indian town, there is no littering or spitting allowed, there are no tuk tuks, very few cars and the air is just amazing. They actually have garbage collection which they dump in one place instead of literally everywhere in other Indian towns/cities. The people are so well dressed everywhere in India but here is just above and beyond. The men are so distinguished and wear a collared shirt, sweater, blazer, dress pants and nice shoes. All of them. The women are (as usual) in their gorgeous saris although we've seen a lot more Indians wearing 'Western' clothing. We still get stares but not near as much as other places and I haven't noticed people taking our pictures... doesn't mean it doesn't happen but it's much less!

There are tons of little shops, no one is bothering you to buy things - it's so great! They have great restaurants - Chinese dim sum, European, homemade pizza shops, French fry stands, you name it! Much more Tibetan/Nepalese food here as well because of the vicinity to those countries. Derek and I went to a place yesterday called Wake n' Bake which makes homemade pizzas, hummus/homemade pitas, falafels, quiches, tacos, Shepherd's pie, crepes, etc. and it was delicious. We're meeting Marlee and Huw for lunch today at this spot called Cafe Sol which has lots of Western/European food so should be good! Our first day here we did the hike up to the Monkey Temple which was all uphill and I realized how out of shape I am. Monkeys everywhere and you had to take a stick with you because they are known to attack. It was neat though!

I just love it here... although we didn't expect the temperatures. During the day it's about 15 degrees and at night it's about 5-10 degrees so it's cold when you don't have the proper clothing! We're going to get a sweater today as we head further north (we heard it was snowing there!).

Whew. Finally caught up on everything! Only 2 weeks left in India and back to Canada... can't believe how quickly time has gone by but also looking forward to getting home for a bit before taking off again!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 03.04.2013 00:04 Archived in India

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Comments

Laurie -- the best sign of a great vacation is the ardent desire to go home. Truly -- you know then, where your heart feels the most comfortable. Thank you for your honesty, your candor...and your delicious descriptions of India and of the love found in friendship and sisterly giggles. You are a treasure...have a great two weeks and I can't wait to hug you again.

03.04.2013 by SueAnn Land

Hi Laurie,

I didn't get notifications about your blog (maybe I didn't sign up for them?) and I didn't read it until this morning (after I remembered to check it out; SueAnn's Facebook posting prompted me).

What amazing experiences you and Derek (also Tracy and Neil) are having! I so enjoy reading of your adventures except for the parts about cockroaches and spiders. Bugs are not my thing!

I can see why "blond, blue-eyed, 'white-whaled' Derek" might be considered unusual and different by the dark-skinned, dark haired, dark eyed natives of India. :-)

Your comments about your working future and working with different types of people struck a chord with me. I know you will be great working with whichever groups cross your path. You have a kind heart and a generous nature and are intelligent. You'll be a godsend to those who are lucky to benefit from your care.

In one of your postings, you mentioned that you are lucky to have the family you have. On the flip side of this coin, your family is very lucky to know and love you. You've told me of your close relationships with many of your dad's relatives and, of course, you also have that with some of your mother's family. I am so blessed to have the "Michael Girls" as my cousins! I absolutely adore BLT!

You write so well; I felt like we were having a conversation as I read your postings. I so enjoyed viewing India through your words and the pictures you and Tracy have posted. A friend visited India last year and some of her pictures and stories were similar to the ones you shared. She and her family, too, had a wonderful time in the place of your adventures!

Take care and continue to travel safely. I'll check the blog soon for more wonderful tales from you.

Love,
Bill

03.04.2013 by William Land

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