THE WANDERER

A TRAVEL BLOG

I love to travel and meticulously document my experiences in writing, drawings, photos, and collected keepsakes.  I have created this site to share my experiences.  I have a background in architecture so I tend to approach these new experiences from a design perspective, but I also try to immerse myself in the culture of my destination.

CULTURAL OBSERVATIONS, PART 3

This is something that I try to do everywhere I go.  I try to make note of all surprising cultural observations that I come across in my travels.  As a disclaimer, these may not be %100 percent true, as many are broad generalizations, and some of these were told to me by various people I met along the way, so take them with a grain of salt.

-  Commercial vehicles pay a tax to pass into different states.

-  If you pass someone on the road and don’t honk, they will get mad at you, and if you drive through a crowd of people without honking, the police may stop you and why failed to honk.

-  Some roads and highways are run by private companies who charge the public directly.

-  Punjabi music uses lots of drums, and is very catchy and popular to dance to.  It is commonly played at weddings, even if people from other regions do not understand the lyrics.

-  Some truck drivers sometimes customize their horn sounds with “pressure horns”.

-  Elephant polo is an actual sport played in Rajastan and several other countries.

-  People in India can buy beer at 18, and liquor at 21.

-  Some people make liquor called “Desi Daru”, which means “homemade whiskey” and it is sometimes made with sugar cane and heated by burning cow dung.

-  Monkeys run around freely in Jaipur and are treated with almost as much respect as people.  If a monkey jumps into someone’s window, they are often given food.

-  The red dot that people apply to their forehead is called a Bindi, and it has many spiritual meanings.  It is said to be good luck and is also said to retain energy and strengthen concentration.  

-  During Hindi movies, people cheer when a popular actor makes his/her first appearance.

-  During dance scenes in Hindi movies, some people get up and dance in the theater.

-  During a movie, it seems ok to talk to each other, talk on a cell phone, text and bring babies to the theater.

-  Indian bureaucracy is astonishingly inefficient and extremely corrupt.

-  Young couples that cannot show affection in public go to places like Akbar’s tomb to be together.

-  Some people get their hair cut by roadside barbers.

-  Piles of garbage are common along the roadside, and some people burn it to cook their food.

-  Museum staff take a break for lunch and kick everyone out of the exhibit rooms for an hour.

RETURN TO DELHI, THEN HOME 12/14/12 - 12/15/12

Friday 12/14/12

We started walking from our hotel to Connaught Place, somewhat expecting an experience similar to that of our first night in Delhi.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that for the first time on my trip, I felt comfortable walking around India on my own.  After studying the map in the hotel, I understood the layout of the streets and blocks before going out, and therefore roughly knew where I was going.  We now knew to avoid the construction zones and the middle circle, and had a lot more experience ignoring beggars and salesman under our belts.  It was quite enjoyable to walk along all the colonnades and check out all the shops.  I finally felt confident that I could make it around India on my own if I were to ever come back.  It is too bad that it took me 3 weeks to gain that level of confidence and knowledge to be able to feel comfortable here.  I was sad to have to fly home the next day, despite my moments of homesickness several times during the trip.

JAIPUR 12/11/12-12/13/12

Tuesday 12/11/12

My day started with a ride on an elephant, so it was quite a special day in my life.  It was certainly not the most efficient way of climbing the hill to the Amber Fort, but it was by far the most fun.  Dad and I sat side by side on a big padded seat attached to the elephant’s back, with our legs hanging off the side. We climbed the steep path and entered the grand gate like the Maharajas of old.  I found the Amber Fort of Jaipur to be more amazing than either the Red Fort or the Agra Fort.  It may not have had the same monumental scale as its Mughal counterparts, but what it lacked in size, it made up for in its setting, its labyrinthine qualities, and the freedom visitors have to explore its depths.  There seemed to be an endless number of passageways that we were free to follow, some leading to unremarkable dead ends and some leading to ornately pained rooms with views of the surrounding mountains.  The child in me came out more than it had in a long time, as I wandered through the old maze in wonder, not knowing what I would find around each corner.  While sketching, I met a group of Indian architecture students and it was fascinating to get their perspective on architecture and education in particular.  Between the maze of passageways and my new-found friends, I had many reasons to never want to leave, but alas, there is always more to see.  We headed to Jantar Mantar, the observatory.  It was one of the strangest places I have ever been to, seeming like a fantasy land of mysterious structures that looked like a real-life landscape from Dr. Suess or Alice in Wonderland.  What made it even more fascinating was that these structures that looked like “follies” were actually the complete opposite: very much functional and incredibly accurate instruments to measure time and sun angles.  It is truly amazing that a 75 foot high sundial built 300 years ago could still be accurate by mere seconds.  Later that night we went to see a Bollywood movie in Jaipur’s most famous movie theater, which was quite the cultural experience.  It was fascinating to see everyone cheer the first time an actor made his/her first appearance in the film.  It was also wild to see some people get out of their seats during the musical scenes to dance in the aisles.  It didn’t even matter that the whole movie was in Hindi and I couldn’t understand a word of dialogue.  The actors’ facial expressions were so exaggerated and over-acted that it was pretty easy to tell what was going on.  Raj helped with the rest.

Thursday 12/13/12

We started our day with a surreal visit to the Galta Temple, a Hindu house of worship built into the mountain outside the city.  It lay just beyond the city gates, yet once inside, the complex felt like a very remote place.  Perhaps this was because of the spiritual atmosphere there.  We were given red dots, good luck bracelets, and incense, and I was allowed to take pictures yet I somehow felt it was an unholy thing to do.  When we started climbing the terraces of bathing pools, we saw a few monkeys hanging out on the stone floor.  Then the “monkey master” pointed out an area of the cliff where there were literally hundreds of monkeys running, climbing, shrieking, and chasing each other around the sheer face of the cliff.  Dad and I had one of those moments where we simply could not believe where we were.  The whole setting just seemed too bizarre to be real.  Later, I met one of the architecture students from the Amber Fort for coffee at the mall and had such a wonderful conversation.  It was so nice and refreshing to have a conversation with someone who wasn’t trying to get money out of me, and better yet, someone who knows about architecture and design.

CULTURAL OBSERVATIONS, PART 2

This is something that I try to do everywhere I go.  I try to make note of all surprising cultural observations that I come across in my travels.  As a disclaimer, these may not be %100 percent true, as many are broad generalizations, and some of these were told to me by various people I met along the way, so take them with a grain of salt.

-  Because of a lack of funeral homes in some places, when someone dies, their casket is brought to the home for people to pay their respects.

-  The Communist Party is very active in Kerala, and there are lots of red flags and graffiti with CPI (Communist Party of India) written everywhere.

-  Some churches have a big gold column in front with an oil candle on top, an element adopted from Hindu temples.

-  It appears to be ok for the ground floor of a building to be in use while the concrete for floors above is still being poured.

-  Houses in Kerala typically have tiled roofs, are made of solid concrete, and have balconies lined with benches.

-  There are hardly any American cars, but many from Tata, Mahindra, Suzuki, Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Skoda, Renault, etc.

-  When a strike is called in India, everything stops, and if you drive down the street, people will throw stones at your car.  However, if you are having a wedding, you have to put wedding pictures on the front and back of your car so people don’t attack you.

-  In Christian Indian weddings, the bride starts the ceremony wearing a white wedding dress.  The priest then blesses a sari, a traditional garment, which the bride then puts on.

-  In Kerala, alcohol is not sold on the first day of every month because that is the day people get their paychecks, and the government does not want people to rush to spend their pay on booze.

-  Sitting in the sun is not as popular as it is elsewhere, so beaches are used primarily for walking around.

-  Food is traditionally eaten with one’s hand, even wet dishes with a lot of gravy and rice.

-  Many poor people drink Toddy, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented coconut water.

-  Indian food is traditionally vegetarian, and if you want to go out and eat meat, one should ask for a non-veg restaurant.

-  Private busses are often ornately decorated with neon lights and paintings.

-  People decorate their taxis, auto-rickshaws, and trucks, often with religious imagery.

-  When a woman sits on the back of a scooter or a motorcycle, she sits with both legs hanging off the side of the vehicle.  (Our driver joked that if she sits with a leg on each side, then she is a prostitute)

-  When a car pulls into an expensive hotel, a security guard checks the trunk and uses a mirror at the end of a stick to check under the car for bombs.

-  Hindus keep a bottle of water from the Ganges in their houses.

FATEHPUR SIKRI 12/10/12

Monday 12/10/12

The abandoned historical city of Fatehpur Sikri was a very fascinating place, ornate like all the other Mughal buildings I had seen, and very well preserved.  The multitude of other tourists made it feel like it wasn’t very abandoned, but it was beautiful and comfortable nonetheless.  My favorite part of the day happened to be while we were walking around the Hindu Queen’s palace, when I found a peaceful corner of the stone maze where I was far enough away from all other people that it was nearly silent.  I sat against the cool sandstone wall, among the shadows of diffused light bouncing off many walls to finally illuminate my peaceful meditative space.  I whistled the tune to “Festival” by Sigur Ros as the echoes sang the soothing tune back to me.  I wanted to sit there in peaceful solitude for hours, but instead we walked through a mosque where my Dad and I were followed by a terrifyingly disfigured little girl with great big bug eyes.  India just has a way of giving you the best and worst of the world in close succession.

THE TAJ MAHAL AND THE AGRA FORT 12/9/12

Sunday 12/9/12

On Saturday we got a nice preview of the Taj Mahal by seeing it from across the river.  It was wonderful, but not quite the same as seeing it up close the next day.  In what I perceive to be the spirit of Agra, the road to the Taj was full of cow dung and persistent salesmen.  Once we walked through the first ornate gate, however, we entered a different world, a 17th century paradise on Earth designed to reflect the paradise in heaven.  An outer courtyard surrounded by red sandstone colonnades led to an even more ornate gate, a structure that would make a spectacular tomb on its own.  Its 22 marble domes represented the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal.  As we passed through the main gate, that famous perfect perspective lined up, bringing into view the reflecting pool and its fountains that pointed directly to the center of the massive marble structure.  Hundreds of people lined up and nudged each other aside to position themselves to get the perfect picture in front of the building.  With the encouragement of our guide, Rajeev, Dad and I fell in line and joined the masses.  I have seen the Taj Mahal in hundreds of pictures and I have been looking at them my whole life, but all those pictures simply cannot capture just how other-worldly the building is when you see it with your own eyes.  We approached the building in a state of pure awe, retaining very little of the guide’s information because we were so focused on what we were seeing.  We walked around the first sandstone platform, taking lots of pictures from different angles, and walked along the river’s edge.  We came around and ascended the stairs to the marble platform.  As we walked inside, we caught a glimpse through the marble screens of the only aspect of the whole building lacking perfect symmetry: the 2 marble caskets of Shah Jahan and his wife.  The lighting inside was only indirect natural light from a few small sources and was insufficient to show the fine level of detail of all the marble carvings and inlays of semi-precious stone. We went outside to try to take in the building more completely.  I sat and sketched for a while, while Dad watched me and took more pictures.  Eventually, we decided to go, although neither of us really wanted to leave.  I think we could have sat and stared endlessly, until the light faded and all we could see was a faint outline of the tomb against the stars.  Instead we headed to the Agra Fort, which had weathered the years better than the fort in Delhi had, but lacked its beautiful gardens.  The tour featured the tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son to live out the rest of his days with a view of the Taj Mahal.  I would have felt very sorry for him if I didn’t learn that he spent his 8 years “imprisoned” with a harem of young girls.  It sounds like history’s most luxurious and pleasurable incarceration.

FROM DELHI TO AGRA 12/7/12 - 12/8/12

Friday 12/7/12

It was a fascinating day of religious experiences.  In one day, we visited a Hindu temple, a Baha’i temple, a Jain temple, and the ruins of a mosque.  The inside of the massive Akshardham temple was so ornately decorated that it was hard to fathom.  In a way, not being able to take pictures gave us a chance to really look at the building, not just through the camera’s lens.  The Baha’i temple was a monumental modern building with structural grace and lovely natural lighting.  I was also rather fascinated with and impressed with the philosophy of the religion.  It teaches everyone to accept all previous religions as important and relevant to their time, and encourages people to use the temple as a space for anyone to meditate and connect with god(s) in whatever way they see fit.  Even though I was there to admire human ingenuity in design, I could feel this was a special spiritual place.  An atmosphere of quiet peace and respect is something that all the religions sites we visited had in common.  Our visit to Qutb Minar later that day gave us a chance to admire another example of human ingenuity, only this one from nearly 1000 years ago.

Saturday 12/8/12

The first really interesting thing I learned today was that young couples who are not really allowed to show affection in public go to places like Akbar’s tomb to hide among the myriad of arches and columns.  There they can be alone, away from the prying eyes of their family and peers, only to do something so simple as hold each other’s hand.  It’s ironic that a building designed for death has given life, unintentionally, to the feelings and affections of so many young relationships.  It made me realize how lucky I am to never have to worry about something I thought was so simple and always took for granted.  The other thing that struck me today was just how poverty stricken the city of Agra is.  I had seen some heart wrenching poverty in Mumbai and Delhi, but it hadn’t quite prepared me for what seems like a city of beggars with pockets of super-high-end hotels and beautiful stone monuments.  As we drove from one gorgeous tomb to the next, we passed by mounds of garbage and filth that had clearly been built up over time.  Stray dogs, cows, and donkeys could be seen rummaging through these piles looking for food.  People were freely peeing on the side of the road, in full view of hundreds of motorists and pedestrians, and at every red light, a tap on the window would bring me face to face with a woman holding a baby or a man standing on one leg and a crutch.  I suppose the frenzy of tourists around the famous Taj Mahal attracts these unfortunate souls from all over the country.  After all, if I were a beggar, I would also want to go to where I could find the most guilt-ridden Westerners too.  Even seeing all that horror, however, could not diminish the sense of wonder I got from my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal.  I keep saying that it’s increasingly rare that I see something that takes my breath away and holds my gaze for hours.  I’m so happy to say that the famous Taj gave me another of those rare moments of my life that I have come to cherish so much.  It made it that much more special to be able share that moment with my Dad on his birthday.  Not even the harassment of starving children (even after I gave them some money) could ruin that moment for me.

MEETING DAD IN DELHI 12/5/12-12/6/12

Wednesday 12/5/12

It was so great to see my Dad when I got picked up upon my arrival at the airport in Delhi.  I had a great time with Joe and Nicole but I was looking forward to enjoying a father-son bonding adventure.  We had the concierge recommend us a local place to eat and we decided to walk there.  We came to regret that decision.  After our first few steps outside the hotel gate, we were being chased by auto-rickshaw drivers offering us a ride.   Then we soon realized we were rather lost in a city that had streets quite different from those we were used to back home.  The area called Connaught Place was organized in giant circles around a central park and the blocks were named with letters.  Also, there was a lot of construction that prevented us from walking directly to where we needed to go and in some cases, forced us to walk in the street next to the speeding cars.  Between the dust in the air from all the construction and the smog that lay over the city like a suffocating blanket, we finally made it to the restaurant with sore throats.  Joe had told me that getting around in India is very different than getting around in Europe, and that walk made me realized he was right.  Without having a friend to take me around, I felt lost and uncomfortable, and we took a taxi back to the hotel.

Thursday 12/6/12

First we went to the Jama Masjid Mosque, which was a beautiful building along with a fascinating cultural experience.  It was the first time I had ever been to a mosque, and it felt a little awkward at first.  But soon we had our shoes off and we were walking around the big courtyard area where everyone prays.  The guide gave us a lot of great information about the building and the royal family’s prayer rituals.  We climbed the narrow stairs to the top of the minaret and had a magnificent and expansive view of Old Delhi.  Our drive around the old part of the city showed us just how much poverty there is here, and also how busy and crowded the streets are.  I don’t know how I thought I was going to be able to just walk around the old streets here by myself.  We realized, however, that Delhi is full of nice pockets of peace and quiet, like the gardens around Humayun’s tomb.  While inside, it is hard to imagine that just outside the walls is a wild city of millions trying to survive day to day.

CULTURAL OBSERVATIONS, PART 1

This is something that I try to do everywhere I go.  I make note of all surprising cultural observations that I come across in my travels.  As a disclaimer, these may not be 100 percent true, as many are broad generalizations, and some of these were told to me by various people I met along the way, so take them with a grain of salt.

-  Many people in Mumbai eat street food instead of cooking at home because they leave home very early and come home very late at night.

-  Many kitchens in Southern Indian homes have a device attached to the countertop that is used for scraping the inside of a coconut.

-  Christian homes in India have shrines to Jesus in the living room.

-  In Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala, you address an elder family member or friend by their first name followed by “chachan” for men and “chaichi” for women.

-  Indian people traditionally eat food with their hand, no matter how saucy it is.

-  After the main course at a restaurant, you are served a bowl of warm water with a slice of lime or lemon.  You wash your hands in the water and squeeze the lime/lemon juice onto your hands to get the smell of food off, especially onion and garlic.

-  When I was in a restaurant and someone was celebrating a birthday, the song they played had the same tune as “happy birthday” but it started with the words, “let’s all sing the birthday song” followed by the usual words.

-  On the back of many trucks, it says, “HORN OK PLEASE” in big letters.

-  Diplomats, politicians, and high-ranking military personnel are driven in special cars with flags on the front center of the hood.  If a passenger is not in the car, the flag is covered by a little sleeve.

-  Cars are driven on the left side of the road and people tend to walk on the left side too.

-  Indian drivers honk constantly, not out of anger or outrage, but just to indicate their presence to other drivers.

-  Many traffic rules are routinely ignored, such as staying in one’s lane, signaling to change lanes, and stopping at red lights.

-  The trunk of a car is called the “boot” and trucks are called “lorries”.

-  People in Kerala shake their heads side to side when they talk.  It serves the same purpose as a smile, indicating that everything is ok and that they understand.  Sometimes this shaking is a response or greeting, accompanied by no words at all.  People also do this elsewhere in India this but it does not seem as pronounced.

-  In Kerala, many towns have Christian shrines in the form of tall towers with statues of saints inside them, behind glass.

-  In the South, Indian men traditionally wear a long skirt-like piece of clothing called a lungi, and a white and gold one for formal occasions.

HAGGLING IN KOCHI 12/4/12

Tuesday 12/4/12

I really hate haggling and negotiating for a price to buy something.  I like the system we have in America: you go into a store intending to buy something, there is a price, and then you just pay that price and go off on your way.  No arguing, no awkward negotiation, and no time wasted.  Some people may like the thrill of shopping for the best price for an item, but I take no joy in it.  I would rather pay a higher price than have to deal with the whole uncomfortable situation.  In Kochi’s Jew Town, (yes that is really what it is called) I tried to negotiate to buy some small gifts for friends but I guess I just came off as a sucker because I could not get the merchants to come down on their prices, even when I walked out of the store.  Sometimes, I just have to say “fuck it” and go ahead and buy something if I really want it.  

TRIVANDRUM 12/2/12-12/3/12

Sunday 12/2/12

I found Trivandrum to be the nicest of the Indian cities I had seen thus far.  It had broad, tree-lines streets and it was very clean.  It also wasn’t nearly as busy as other cities like Mumbai and Kochi.  The view from Chako’s apartment showed mostly a landscape of coconut trees that was here and there broken by an area of houses or a high rise apartment building.  The beach at Kovalam was tropical and gorgeous, and so was the Vivianta hotel, where we were staying.  For dinner, I had prawns grilled on a stone slab that kept them hot even 30 minutes after they were served.  They were charred with lots of hot spices and served with vegetables and potatoes.  We had a wonderfully relaxing meal right on the beach, listening to the waves crash and watching the distant lights of fisherman’s boats.


Monday 12/3/12

Getting my first massage was very much a strange experience.  For one, getting naked and having a man feel up my body was an idea that took some getting used to.  All I had on was a little loincloth.  The guy started by rubbing oil into my scalp, which actually felt really good.  He chanted some kind of prayer beforehand, which was a little weird.  Then he did a funny karate-chop-like move on my head and shoulders with both hands, and massaged my shoulders with oil.  Then I laid down on my stomach while he spread oil on my back and seemed to squeeze my calf muscles down into my feet.  At this point I was feeling pretty awkward and was kinda staring at the wall while my mind raced around, failing to keep clear and calm down.  The man could tell I was tense and kept telling me to calm down and relax.  Eventually, when I as on my back, about 2/3 of the way through, I stopped feeling awkward and started to enjoy it.  It was too bad that the massage was almost over at that point.  When it was over, my muscles felt great but I could not wait to get the oil off my skin.  Well, I had to get a massage at least once in my life and I am open to the idea of getting another one sometime.

THE KERALA BACKWATERS 12/1/12

Saturday 12/1/12

Our house boat ride on the backwaters of Kerala was a unique experience.  We started on a small canal, but I soon realized that it was part of a vast network.  We traveled down the canals past a diverse group of buildings that included 5-star resorts and dilapidated homes.  As we made our way from the canal into the vast lagoon, we could see almost nothing but coconut trees.  It was wonderfully relaxing to sit on the shaded boat as it cruised through the waters.  We all sat on the deck and chatted and enjoyed the view.  This short trip on the backwaters brought me in contact with the best and worst of Indian cuisine.  We stopped at a local “Toddy bar”, where the poor come to drink a foul beverage made from fermented coconut water.  It’s basically the Indian version of malt liquor, and probably has the same alcohol content.  It was poured from a used water bottle (cleanliness questionable) and given to me in a glass.  It tasted like a Pina Colada that was left out for a week in the sun or perhaps the basement of my old fraternity house.  The meal we had after the Toddy, however, was so delicious, it more than made up for the awful taste of the rotting coconut in my mouth.  Prawns were oiled and cooked in a variety of spices and charred in a way that reminded me a lot of Cajun food.  There were also small fish cooked in a similar fashion, and prawns in a delicious yellow coconut curry drizzled over rice and vegetables.  A very spicy chicken curry was served as well, and the whole meal left my mouth burning with slightly painful pleasure.

NATURAL BEAUTY IN MUNNAR 11/27/12 - 11/30/12

Thursday 11/29/12

The approach to Munnar was simply magnificent.  The landscape slowly became more lush and mountainous as we made our way through the countryside .  My first glimpse of a tea plantation took my breath away.  We turned around a corner in the road and suddenly the hillside ahead of us was covered with one uniform color and a smooth uniform surface.  The color of the living tea plants was the richest, most lovely hue of green, and it shimmered as we turned and the angle of the light changed.  Soon this became the dominant material of the landscape.  The hotel turned out to be a beautiful group of cottages nestled in this sea of natural beauty.  Later that day I got the most shocking illustration of just how much the American dollar is worth here.  I was served an all-you-can-eat meal with rice, curries, and different other condiments and deserts for 100 INR, the US equivalent of $1.80.  It was served on a banana leaf and I tried to eat it Indian style with my hand, but just felt uncomfortable doing it.  

Friday 11/30/12

I woke up early to climb up on top of a boulder and watch the sun rise over the mountains.  We left the hotel, embarking on one of the most beautiful drives of my life.  As we wound our way through the undulating landscape, every view after turning a corner was more beautiful than the last.  I sat in constant awe throughout the drive.  One particularly special moment came when we drove to the top of a tall ridge and passed through a tunnel of branches from trees that reached over the road from either side.  We were coming from an area with clear air, but after we passed through the trees, we found ourselves in a totally different climate, as we looked out onto a hazy landscape with many layers of green and gray mountains in the distance.  We had a great culturally fascinating experience seeing Joe’s old school in Kuttikanam.  When we arrived in the courtyard, all the kids flocked to us like we were movie stars from the US.  The principal, a nice old nun, gave us a tour of the school, which gave me an idea of what Indian schools are like.  I was surprised by how advanced the technology was.  They had lots of computers and even a smart board.  All the kids we saw smiled and waved at us, and Joe was as happy and giddy as a little kid as he pointed out things he remembered from his childhood.  Later we found the abandoned winter palace of an old king that Joe had once heard about.  A homeless man who was squatting in the palace invited us in and showed us around.  Joe spoke to him in Malayalam and translated for us.  Even in its decaying state, it was an impressive building, with a beautiful central courtyard overgrown with natural plants and the man’s clothes drying in the sun.  I wish I could have spent the whole day there exploring the grounds, but we had to leave, so we exchanged some “namaste’s” with the friendly man, gave him some money for his kindness, and we were on our way to see more of Joe’s family.

LANDING IN MUMBAI 11/24/12 - 11/26/12

Saturday 11/24/12

I wasn’t that excited about this trip in the days leading up to it because the packing, planning, and organizing was very stressful and I still didn’t have a lot of things figured out.  However, once I made it through security and was on my own, I felt the rush of another adventure wash over me, and it made me suddenly just so happy.  I’ve come to realize that I only feel fully alive when I’m traveling,  There’s just nothing else that brings a smile to my face in quite the same way. 

 

Sunday 11/25/12

My first impression of Mumbai was that it is a city of busy madness.  I thought that NYC was a busy city but it seems like a calm, easy-going place compared to the mad rush of Mumbai.  I soon realized that traffic laws here are more like guidelines.  On the way from the airport to the city, the taxi driver continuously weaved through the other cars, mopeds, and auto-rickshaws.  Once we got off the highway, the local roads only got crazier, as pedestrians ran across the streets through traffic everywhere and red lights didn’t seem to mean anything but “speed up!”  The fact that we were driving on the left side of the road just added to my confusion.  When we walked around the city Sunday night, I found that I really needed to look both ways before crossing the street because my instinct was to cross after looking the wrong way.

 

Monday 11/26/12

Our tour around Mumbai really illustrated the massive range of wealth and poverty prevalent in India.  Dhobi Ghat is a place where generations of poor have washed clothes for the rich for a couple dollars a day.  What is crazy about this is that millionaire’s high rise apartments look right down on it.  Then we ate at one of the fanciest restaurants in the city, at the top of the Taj hotel, where a courtyard with a pool was an oasis of luxury in a sea of madness.  And not 200 feet from the entrance to the hotel are people sleeping on the ground and kids with no clothes running around while their parents try to earn a few rupees selling stuff to tourists.  Meeting Joe’s family was a different experience altogether.  Going to Sam and Beena’s apartment and meeting their kids was such a wonderful experience, as was meeting Sebastian’s family.  Sitting in their living room, playing games with the kids, and talking with them about life and culture is to me so much more rewarding that a visit to any landmark.