Friday, August 20, 2010

alright. i'm going to attempt to give you a small look into my 10-day journey to india. know that this will by no means do the experience justice. india is one of those places you have to experience to understand. i apologize for the lack of pictures besides the few google images - they will come once john gets everything uploaded and edited.

we arrived in bangalore, india around midnight local time (3:30am to our bodies on korean time) after 22 hours of travel, including a long layover in kuala lumpur, malaysia. we were both dead tired and john had contracted some flu-like symptoms somewhere along the way - never a good way to start out! my dear friends picked us up at the airport and took us to their home to rest. you might remember them from earlier blogs. they are korean missionaries to india who i met earlier in the year when they spoke at my church during a month-long visit home in korea. her english is amazing and they are the sweetest, most helpful couple. we clicked right away and have kept in touch ever since, even when they moved back to india. they extended an invitation to me for a visit, and that's how this whole thing started.

(monday) after some much-needed rest, my friends took us out to an authentic indian lunch, similar but not exactly like this google image: of course, i could only eat bread and rice due to my crazy stomach condition, then in its 4th week. what a crying shame to be in india, unable to enjoy indian cuisine! anyways, i got to watch everyone else enjoy the experience. they started out with giant leaves - your plate. hahaha. you take water and rinse it off and you're ready to roll. then the server brought out rice for everyone along with some tandoori chicken and delicious looking curry. john claims it was the most delicious thing ever. i trust that word. i should note here that the traditional indian way is to eat with your hands. rice and curry and curd with plenty of exotic spices - with your hands. i must admit, it kind of grosses me out. but that's the way it's done. afterwards, we rented a car to drive us to the local botanical gardens - seriously beautiful. called the "garden city" for a reason, bangalore was as green of a place as i've ever seen. it was SO pretty. again, pictures to come. monday also saw my first ever motor rickshaw experience. hahahaha. crazy! india has no road rules. in fact, very few traffic lights. it's sort of every man for himself. i'm talking - major intersections with crossroads of 4 lanes each way. you sort of just close your eyes, lay on your horn, and pray that you make it across. here is a link to a youtube video i found. the traffic is quite light compared to what i experienced, but you can get an idea of the "no rules" philosophy. it's absolutely terrifying. i should also note that while a road may be technically 4 lanes, that means nothing. it was not uncommon for us to be sitting 11 cars/rickshaws wide on a 4 lane road. NOT american! some roads are paved, some are not. and there are danged cows EVERYWHERE. literally. you cannot turn around without having some cow or pig all up in your space. they're napping in the middle of the road, stopping traffic and doing their business wherever they feel like. i felt like i was an alien in another world.

we woke up early on tuesday to catch a flight up north to new delhi.india is a ginormous country, so flights are the way to go when you're in a time crunch. i should note, too, that bangalore is very south - where the weather was absolutely beautiful and sometimes even required a jacket in the evenings. such a nice break from this blazing summer we have seen in korea. unfortunately, delhi is way north and i started sweating my butt off as soon as we got off the plane. i literally thought the skin was going to melt off of my bones. i spent more money on bottled water than anything else. fortunately, they also have mosquitoes that are out for the kill. haha. i was getting attacked left and right. anyways, back to tuesday. we had to hire a rickshaw to take us to our hostel. that was an experience and a half. delhi is a tourist trap if i've ever seen one and they are out to gouge you for everything you're worth...which can be really confusing for a tourist who isn't used to dealing in rupees. fortunately i'd studied up a little on exchange rates between korean won, indian rupees, and us dollars (a lot to keep track of!) and could mostly tell a ridiculous price from a reasonable one. our hostel ended up being straight out of a scene from slumdog millionaire. definitely not a place you wanted to walk around at nighttime. shady and dirty as it was, the workers (who spoke no english) were nice enough and helped us out a lot. we visited some national monuments like qutub minar and took lots of pictures this day. indian architecture is so different from anything i've seen before - really beautiful!

on wednesday we got up crazy early (noticing a trend yet?) to catch a train to agra where the taj mahal is located. WOW. the train ride was an experience, but i would recommend it to a traveler wanting to see true indian culture. it's also a great way to see the landscape.there are about a million different cars you can ride in - sleepers, a/c, etc. financially minded, we chose the non-a/c seated car. HA! we were crammed into this tiny space with 3 on a bench, facing each other awkwardly. i should mention that we had people staring at us the entire trip. a korean and a white, white boy make quite the couple in a place like india and we stuck out like a sore thumb. i constantly had people staring at me and unabashedly pointing and laughing and taking pictures of me on their cell phones. i think it was partially because i was a female, partially because i'm asian (as i've been told - very chinese-looking) and india sees few asian tourists. at first, it was a little amusing. but over time i started to realize that many of the men were more than curious and they became pretty forward in their advances. it's one thing to read about the treatment of women as objects in other cultures. it's another thing to experience that treatment first-hand. i learned quickly to keep my guard up constantly and john was like an overprotective dad, sometimes having to get right up an indian man's face and telling him to put his camera away, stop staring, and keep moving. i must admit - more than once, i pretended not to understand english so i wouldn't have to respond to the mostly awkward, sometimes crude, statements. on the train, we met an american girl about our age who was traveling india alone. this is NOT something i would recommend to anyone. i saw enough hassle WITH a male presence next to me...i can't imagine what it would have been like if i were alone. i don't know what that girl's parents were thinking letting her do india on her own, but she is a straight-up survivor in my book. while that entire part of the experience was less than enjoyable, i firmly believe that you can take something away from every situation. so while i wasn't necessarily prepared for that aspect of the trip, it was definitely a learning experience.

(wed cont.) back to the train. sorry for the digressions. i have so much to say & my thoughts are everywhere - organization is almost impossible. the train cars were cramped, slightly smelly, but moderately clean to the naked eye. men and children were constantly trying to sell you chai tea (an indian favorite!) or water or soft drinks or fried, delicious-smelling foods. at every stop, they were even at your windows trying to shove stuff in your face. american sporting event vendors have NOTHING on the indians. after we finally arrived in agra, we had to hire another rickshaw (always an experience) and make it to our hostel. this one was really nice and on the same street as the taj mahal. in fact, it had a rooftop restaurant with a perfect view of the taj. one of my favorite moments of the trip was having a relaxing dinner on the roof with the taj mahal in the background after a grueling, blazing hot day. after check-in, we braved the monsoons and headed out to some other really beautiful national monuments, like the agra fort. (in india, monsoon season mainly involves a heavy afternoon downpour that lasts for only about 30 minutes.) we ended the afternoon with the taj mahal - my favorite part of the trip. none of the pictures that you've seen in national geographic touch it. you've got to get there and see it for yourself. it was absolutely stunning. i don't really know what else to say about it except it's called one of the world's wonders for a reason. be continued...


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