Wednesday, May 25, 2011

D and A at the Taj Mahal

Adrienne and I woke up at 5:00am Tuesday morning feeling cleaner already, just by the very thought of leaving Delhi. We had reserved 2 seats on a tourist bus that would pick us up at the hostel and take us directly to the Taj Mahal in Agra. However, consistent with our past experiences with transportation, this was only nominally a tourist bus. When will we learn?! In reality it was a broken down local bus with TOURIST painted on the side. To top it off , Indians must have a liberal understanding of the word "reservation" because there were no more seats available and the four of us (we traveled with 2 Israelis we met a few days earlier) had to squish on a little bench beside the driver. Thus began our 5 hour bus journey- packed like sardines without a/c in the 42 degrees heat!

We arrived in Agra and admired the Taj Mahal throughout the afternoon and evening. We spent a good chunk of that time being photographed by Indians who were fascinated by the two white kids! But we're used to it by now. Taking pictures with strangers and answering the basic questions (where are you from? what's your name?) is part of our daily routine. Sometimes, Ade and I spot people concealing all but the camera lens trying to sneak a pic! But people were not shy in Agra. Ade got trapped into what ended up being a 20 minute conversation with someone (although neither person understood the other), and not only were pictures taken, but he filmed part of the incoherent conversation! Later on, we were bombarded by a family with what seemed like at least 15 kids asking to shake our hands. It must be considered good luck for youngsters to touch white people because the father pushed the little ones to touch our arms, and then without warning he put a baby on my head!

Anyways, back to the important stuff, the Taj Mahal. After watching the Taj glisten in the sun for hours I now understand why it is one of the Wonders of the World. Neither words nor pictures can do it justice (another reason why you should consider a trip to India!) I typically appreciate the beauty of nature over man-made art, but the Taj Mahal  has demonstrated to me a certain aesthetic perfection attainable only by a creative usage of what our world has to offer. It is truly a magnificent structure. I was most taken aback by its purpose as an eternal tangible ode to love and beauty.

OK, I'll stop diminishing something so flawless with my words and leave you with something unrelated: never say "this is the hottest place I have ever been to" while traveling in India, because the next place you go to will be hotter! Delhi seamed unbearable but then Agra was 42 degrees, and now we are facing 47 degrees on the way to our next destination (stay tuned)!

Two Girls One Rut


Hello devoted followers,
I'm sure you all have been impatiently awaiting our next post, sitting restlessly at your computers, pressing the refresh button every 30 seconds, wondering what kind of shenanigans Dayna and I are up to. Well, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that we have a new post. The bad news is that you likely have obsessive compulsive disorder, and should probably consider seeking help.

Anyways, OCD probably would have helped up survive the filthy city of New Delhi. In fact Dayna recently reported that she witnessed a homeless man throwing up at the same time that a random shoe fell on her head. I'm not sure how that story helps my point, but I thought it was worth mentioning. From Thursday night to Tuesday morning we stayed in an area called Pahar Ganj. Of course travelling half the way across the world landed us in a place that should really be called Little Israel. Pahar Ganj has been established as the hot spot for Israeli backpackers in Delhi. It was hilarious to see how big of an influence Israeli tourists have had on the neighborhood. Store signs all over the area were mainly written in English, Hindi and Hebrew. Some stores even offered their prices in shekels (Israeli currency). What our stay in Pahar Ganj taught me was that undergoing 12 years of Jewish education is not necessary in consolidating the most important Jewish skill, which is having perceptive Jew-dar (Jew-dar [noun]: The ability to spot a fellow member of the tribe from a mile way). It was a shock to learn that some of the best Jew-dar afficionados are local Pahar Ganj hustlers.

Anyways as hilarious as those hustlers were at first, they quickly became the bane of our existence. In Pahar Ganj it was impossible for us to take 2 steps without hearing someone yelling at us in Hebrew to lure us to their shop.We wanted to get Delhi over with as soon as possible. Being a tourist in Delhi was incredibly exhausting. It was dirty, loud, smelly, spread out and full of those relentless hustlers. On Saturday we visited Lodi Garden, a beautiful, serene park, which surrounded beautiful ruins from the 15th century. We spent the day reading, playing cards, exploring and people-watching. I think the most astonishing thing about our trip to the park was that I can actually use the word 'serene' to describe anything in New Delhi. I can testify as a first-hand witness that Dayna's skin was beginning to develop a subtle green tint and that her shirt had already been partly ripped. Our trip to the park was the only thing preventing Dayna from transforming into the female Incredible Hulk. I can't vouch for myself, but there were rumors going around that steam was beginning to shoot out of my ears as my eyes were transforming into rotating spirals. On a scale of 1 to Mahmoud Ahmadinijad at a Village People reunion tour, we would probably rate our discomfort and frustration at around 8.

Okay so I'm exaggerating a bit. Along with our day in the park, I was really happy that we had the opportunity to use the Metro a few times. We interacted with a whole new breed: the metropolitan Indian. And by interacted with I mean was stared at by people who far exceeded the 5 second limit for socially acceptable ogling. Other than the socially unacceptable ogling, our interactions with people in Delhi were great. Specifically near tourist attractions, we were constantly approached by Indian tourists requesting a picture with us. I loved talking to people who were eager to share their lives with us. Everyone we spoke to was incredibly friendly, despite the difficult language barrier. More importantly, just about every joke I made (even the cheesy ones) was met with huge laughter. Either I'm actually that funny or I permanently have a booger hanging from my nose. I think its the latter.

Alright, alright, I suppose its time for me to tell you about what you've all been waiting for: the tourist attractions. However, since I'm tired and unwilling to pay 25 rupees more for Internet I'll keep this short and sweet: it was good. Just kidding, I can't pull that two times in a row. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so instead of a detailed description I'll finish this up in point form:
  • Red Fort: constructed by a Mughal emperor in the 1600's (same guy who constructed the Taj Mahal)
  • Jain Temple: beautiful shrines, intricate artwork that presumably depicted some of the important myths (the captions were in Hindi)
  • Bird hospital (inside the Jain temple): Yes you heard me correctly, a bird hospital. Although it looks like a scene from a hypothetical sequel of The Birds, the hospital is a testament to the undiscriminating compassion of the Jain religion
  • Humayan's tomb: Majestic building, dead guy
  • Bahai Lotus Temple: Shaped like a lotus
As much as I would love to describe these monuments in further detail, I would be doing you a great disservice by preventing you from taking your own mini trip to the most majestic site of them all: I just don't have the heart to do that to such loyal readers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Elephants Shmelephants

By Monday afternoon we were on our way from Alleppey to Kumily, which is a small town outside a nature reserve. On Tuesday we decided to rent a vespa for convenience sake, but more so for the novelty of driving in the orderless streets of India. The bad news is that I forgot my driver's licence at home; the good news is that they didn't ask if I have one. Adrienne did all the driving because I was too scared, and after a 30 second training session we set out to contribute our share to the orderless roads where the drivers follow the patterns of headless chickens running around. It took awhile to get used to driving on the left side of the road and stopping for cows, goats and chicken crossing (still don't know why, though) but we survived! Cudos to Adrienne for the defensive driving- Young Drivers taught you well. Once out of the city we enjoyed getting lost in the countryside, distracted by the mountainous scenery painted green with trees. One of the greatest experiences that we had so far was our visit to a tea plantation. The place was ginormous, filled with tons of greenery and a narrow winding road that led us to the top of the rolling hills. Driving along the narrow, steep path was pretty scary (especially as a backseat driver), but the gorgeous view of the plantation was unbelievable. While we were near the top, it started raining, which was actually really refreshing and made the view even more special.

The main reason why we came toKumily was to go to Periyar to see elephants, tigers and leopards in the wild so I was really excited for our jeep safari yesterday- although I wouldn't call it a safari as much as a follow-the-trail-of-elephant-poop hike in the Periyar rain forest. We gave up on spotting any exotic wildlife after our 3 our hike which consisted mainly of getting attacked by various blood-sucking creatures (mosquitoes and leeches- gross!). The only elephants that we saw were at an elephant park, were we rode and bathed an elephant, and of course received several drenching shpritzes in return. But even though we didnt see much wildlife, it was a fun experience and we met some nice people.

To take a break from our outdoor adventures, we went to a Kathakali performance the other night. This traditional Hindu dance depicts the myths of the gods (katha=story, kali=play). What an interesting dance! Performers dance to the musical chanting which narrates the story (unfortunately, I don't speak Maliyalum so I had to rely on my imagination to follow the story line). The main attractions are the animated facial expressions and alarmingly lively makeup art.

Last night we caught a flight from Cochin to New Delhi and prepared to embark on a new chunk of our journey. In the South, we jumped into Maliyali culture and the surrounding nature, and the next week of our trip will introduce us to Hindu religion and the different culture in Delhi and its environs. Southern India, you were great, but some things I wont miss! The overwhelming heat, unbearably spicy food and questionable sanitary standards are three key ingredients for shvitzy, hungry, and ever-shmultzy travelers! (for translation, see your local Bubby)

Double Header!!

Today marks the 1 week anniversary of our arrival in India. We are commemorating this momentous occasion with a celebratory sweaty 5 hour bus ride. We have come to love the local bus experience, not only because it is cheap (okay mainly because it's cheap), but because we always end up having funny interactions with people who are amused to see 2 white girls on the local bus.  Our first bus experience was on Sunday, when we woke up early to take a 1.5 hour ride from Cochin to Alleppey. We quickly realized that mastering the local bus system meant following its unwritten rules and conventions.One rule we recently discovered was that the "Super Fast Express Bus" is not super fast because the driver makes less stops along the way. It is super fast because he drives like Keanu Reeves in "Speed". Instead of "Super Fast Express Bus", the sign should read "Crazy Maniac Express Bus: now with 50% more chance of stomach ulcer, death and public urination". Another particularly important rule is that a bus seat must be earned. However, it is not simply earned through etiquette and good manners, but by clawing, pushing and body checking your way to a free seat. You really don't have the right to feel a sense of entitlement to a seat unless you, or the people in your way, are covered in scratches, bruises or teeth marks. When it comes to the bus, social grace is not only a foreign concept, but a debilitating disability, one that Dayna and I were inflicted with at the beginning. But don't you worry loyal followers! That initial bus experience has cured us of this infliction, we are now an unstoppable force, combining our 2 deadliest weapons, Dayna's punctuality and my elbows. Nevertheless, at the time, when the bus doors opened we found ourselves at the back of the vicious stampede. We managed to cram ourselves into the bus, but getting on was only half the battle. Holding 2 heavy knapsacks each while trying to balance ourselves in a crowded swerving bus was no picnic.

Alright, I think I forced you to listen to enough bus stories for today. I'll fill you in on a little of our stay in Alleppey. After only 30 minutes in the city, we had already come to 2 conclusions. The first was that Alleppey was the hottest place we had ever encountered in our lives and the second was that we loved the city much more than Cochin. The beauty of the city alone made it much more compelling. Alleppey is primarily known for its beautiful backwaters, which intermingle with the city streets (Apparently it's described as the Venice of Kerala). As we walked up the main streets we could simply look beside us to watch the magnificent houseboats drive by. We also noticed that the people in Alleppey were not the same as those in Cochin. The Cochin locals that we encountered were noticeably poorer than those in Alleppey, which made our interactions with them completely different. While the people of Cochin mainly saw us as dollar signs, the people of Alleppey were much friendlier and eager to talk to us. Of course we got stared at wherever we went for being white and not wearing the traditional Indian garb, but in Alleppey, a white tourist was a novelty, while in Cochin it was an selling opportunity. It definitely took us a while to adjust to the ubiquitous stares. At first I was paranoid that they were directed at us because we were doing something wrong, but I eventually realized that its just the reality of being a visible minority in India. You'd think that being a visible minority would steer us away from prejudice and bigotry, but I have to admit that Dayna and I are still as bigoted as ever. Yes, I am sorry to admit that we still hold negative feelings towards people with mustaches. And this prejudice is particularly unfortunate in India where everyday is Tom Selleck day. Why would they continue the trend in such a ridiculously hot climate? What are they hiding underneath them? Is this a mass conspiracy?

Anyways, I'm getting off topic here. Yikes, I'm a bit strapped for time so I'll sum up Alleppey in one sentence: it was nice.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shvitz McGitz

We have spent the first couple days of our trip in Cochin, the city where mangoes are sweet and traffic laws and pants are optional. Friday was our first full day in India and we decided to spend it exploring the city. Starting our trip in the South has been been really disorienting. The culture and lifestyle of the North that I've come to associate with India has very little resonance in the South. The quaint (Writer's note: I am only using quaint comparatively, as in, in the South, it will take me a whole minute before I want to rip out my ears while walking on the street rather than the 5 seconds that it takes in Delhi) atmosphere is definitely a change from the hustle and bustle of the North. But we're definitely trying to appreciate the quaintness (ish) before going to the craziness that is New Delhi.

One of the reasons we decided to visit Cochin was to fill our Jewish tourist quota, by visiting a neighborhood in the middle of the city called Jew Town (no you're not in the twilight zone, that is a real place). As nice Jewish girls we felt compelled to exploit the one small connection that the tribe has with India. Anyways, I'll pass the Jewish stuff onto the history nerd.

While we were in Cochin we also took a boat tour of the backwaters, which was beautiful. We had the opportunity to see the community of people who live right off of the backwaters. Anyways, now for what our 2 main viewers are here for:
Yes mom(s), we are drinking lots of water and applying sunscreen every 4-6 hours. And  no, I did not get travelers diarrhea.
I would love to stay and chat, but I'm shvitzing like a chazer (for all you non-Yiddish speakers that means sweating like Charlie Sheen at a drug test (too soon?)).  

PS to my Malayali friends, I'm in your hood, and I think I met your cousins.

Here dayna, take it away:

Thanks for that much too kind intro, Adrienne. I'm blushing.
On Friday night we joined the Chabad in Cochin and davened at the Pardesi Shul located in a neighbourhood called Jew Town (and of course, the street named is Synagogue Lane, at the intersection with Jew Street). This is one of 8 shuls in Cochin- the only one still functioning, built in the 15th Century to accommodate the influx of Jews from Spain and Portugal. I found it unique in many respects- the colour scheme was gold, red and orange (borrowed from Asian culture?), and the floor tiles were imported from China. On the walk home we visited the Jews who still live in Jew Town- all 13 of them! They like life in India, and their families have been living for generations. Interestingly, they don't speak Hebrew! They pray in Hebrew, but speak Judeo-Maliyaliam.
That just about summarizes our Shabbat!, not back to the great outdoors- facing the heat of Allepey and attempting to identify those countless mystery stenches.

Shout out my bro, Matthew Simon- we found your doppleganger! Only she exists in the form of the rabbi's wife!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Eep! We're the token white people!

After 15 hours in the air we finally reached the airport in Delhi! ... but our experience actually started in Toronto when we boarded the plane and couldn't ignore the many stares as we were the only 2 white people aboard! Sudenly, we were the visible minority. And living in mlticultural Toronto has not prepared us onw bit.

We were welcomed aboard the plane by a cute little Indian woman in traditional garb who smiled at us with a friendly "namaste" and an expression that read "why are you two going to India? you won't last in the heat" but she clearly didnt refer to Adrienne's first post. Anyway, thw plane ride was too long and the food too  spicy

Adrienne's side note: Yikes! The food had zero spice! In fact, the lady beside us complained that it was TOO mild. I think Dayna will have to stick to eating fillet o'fish for the rest of the trip. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Hi Internet,
This is Adrienne and Dayna, eager to share our experiences with you as we travel around India. By tomorrow evening we will be in New Delhi and by tomorrow night we will reach our final destination, Cochin.

Dayna and I are constantly asked why we have decided to go to India. While you are anxiously awaiting our second post we will leave you with...
Adrienne and Dayna's Top 3 Reasons for Going to India:
3. To find the Rogers call centre and complain about our phone bill
2. To exploit the cheap labour
1. We're not going to India, we're actually following Justin Bieber on his world tour