India – Positive and Negatives

I am very grateful for my time I got to experience in India.  By volunteering my time through the Sankalp Society Christmas Program, I feel I got a real snap shot of the Northern Indian landscape and daily life. It was only a week that I volunteered in the schools, but the beautiful faces of the children will be with me forever. I am blessed to have crossed paths with so many amazing people on this journey who helped make my experience an even better one.  This was a trip full of adventure and India really gets you out of your comfort zone.  If you like your comforts of home while away on travel, India is not the place for you! Flexibility, non judgement and positive outlook is what will get you through visiting this country like no other.

Positives:

1. The chia tea – every where you go, they have chia from the small shops, road side markets to restaurants. You can be in the most remote place and they will have and offer you chia.  I did get some of the spices and black tea with instructions on how to make when I am back home.

Photo by: Nina Davis

Photo by: Nina Davis

2. The beautiful saris you see the women wearing.  They are made of some of the most beautiful material and such vibrant colors. Again, even in the most rural areas the women dressed beautifully.

photo by Nina Davis

photo by Nina Davis

3. Tuk Tuks – is sort of a love/hate. In the city, best way to get around and so cheap.  Can be a little scary but it is also crazy fun as they are flying in and out of traffic dodging people, cows, cars and motorbikes.

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 4. Dollar goes a long way. 150 rupees is about $2.00 US dollars. When we take the tuk tuks from our house into town we pay about 150-180 rupees. For scarfs we paid no more than 300 or 400 rupees ($4.00-$6.00 US dollar).

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5. There is a mystic about this country. Among all the dirt, garbage and mass of people there is also a beauty about it. Very intriguing on how people live there daily life because it is so different from all the people I know in America.

Photo by Nina Davis

Photo by Nina Davis

 6. Taj Mahal – One of the most beautiful and impressive structures I have ever seen. Blows my mind how they could build something like that in its time.

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Negatives:

 1. Napkins, toilet paper, tissue and hand towels are a rare commodity. Some of the nicer restaurants will have napkins and when they did, we all grabbed every single one and a few from the next table.  Two of our three hotels during our travel time had toilet paper, but very small rolls. I went through 3 economy packs of wet wipes.  I used them for everything.  Toilet paper, hand sanitizing, drying them out, and using for tissue to blow my nose, washing my body when we had only cold water or no time to shower.

Western Toilet. Still haven't figured out how people use that hose.

Western Toilet. Still haven’t figured out how people use that hose.

2. Most of the places we stayed or restaurants we went to had western toilets. You can’t put the paper in the toilet like we can back home. You have to put it in a garbage bin next to the toilet. There is this hose next to all the toilets that we still haven’t figured out how people use that and don’t get all wet. In some of the places, they had the squat toilets. A porcelain square with a hole in it and grips on the side for your feet while you squatted. I did not attempt that while I was here. 

This is a clean squat toilet, most are not this nice.

This is a clean squat toilet, most are not this nice.

3. Garbage every where. I can’t figure out why there is no sanitation system here at all. Literally, garbage is everywhere.  Plastic bottles, clothes, plastic garbage bags. There is also so much dust.  You never really feel clean. 

4. The driving here is down right scary. I don’t think there are any traffic rules, there is constant honking. I would never be able to drive here between the cars, trucks, cows, goats, dogs, tuk tuks, motorcycles and people that you have to dodge. It is scary enough just trying to cross the street sometimes.

5.  India is every man’s toilet. Every time I looked out the window of a car or tuk tuk I saw a man peeing on the side of the road, on a brick wall, or in the middle of town. You never stepped in any wet spots you saw on the road because you didn’t know what it could be.

Final Two Days in India!

We left our hotel at 9:00am and headed to our last fort of the drive – Mahrangarh Fort.  We pull up to the park area, and who do we see, but they guys from Swiss and Chile.  Seriously, this is now getting weird – Amberee starts talking to them and turns out they went to the restaurant we were going to go to last night, and then we never showed. That’s sucks, it would have been fun to hang out with these boys. 

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I started talking to the guy from Switzerland (we never did get their names) and he asked were I was from and I said, American and I live in Wisconsin.  He asked where in Wisconsin and I said Madison.  He asked me if I know Kohler and I said yes. Turns out he works for a company that works with Kohler and he was in Kohler, WI a couple years ago for a week. Small World!!!

We left the fort and loaded back in the car for the six hour drive back to Jaipur. We got back to Jaipur about 4:30pm. Plenty of time for Emily to catch her ride at 6pm to Delhi to fly home that evening. The week of travel was amazing but so exhausting from so much driving time. It was good to be back at the house.

While we were gone three more people came. John, from the US (Illinois). This is actually his 4th time back. He is retired and was spending a few months traveling around India.  There was also a women from France and from Canada. We had a full house for dinner that night. 

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After dinner Luna, Olivia and I walked around the shops near our place.  I wanted to get some silver plates and cups like the ones used in India.  Luna knew of a shop not far from our house.  I guess I never explored the shops near our house and there were some really cute ones.  I got my plates and we also stopped in this super cute cup shop where Olivia and I bought little cups that are perfect for tea. The shop owner was the cutest older Indian women. It was a very nice last night out exploring.

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Today, Friday January 6th, was my last day in India. It was bitter sweet.  Everyone by 9:00am was off to school and Amy, Nina and Olivia went to Hyper City (the mall).  I stayed back at the house by myself to pack up and took some time to reflect back on my time.

 Everyone was home by 1pm and Puni made a wonderful last lunch with all of us together.  Luna, Amberee, Amy, Nina and Olivia after lunch were getting ready to go to the market and I saw them off and we took selfies outside by the tuk tuk and Shakeer’s brother joined us for pictures.

 I will miss those five young ladies. I knew I would probably be one of the older ones in the house, and I was by 15-20 years. To be that young and going on a journey of this size is huge. They are very brave. They all have such a positive spirits and good souls. The nice thing about social media is we can stay connected and I look forward to following them through their life and see the positive impact they continue to have on this world.

I was picked up by my driver to take me back to Delhi at 3:45 and got to the airport around 8:30pm.  My flight time was Saturday at 00:45. Thank goodness all on time. I landed in Toronto at 5:30am Saturday, next flight to Chicago was 7am and now I am on a bus home to Madison.

Final Reflection: 

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Travel is an amazing thing. It is good for the soul to experience other cultures and it is exciting to meet and make friends with people all over the world. Travel also makes you appreciate more of what you have in your life back home.  I am very blessed in my life to have a great family, amazing friends, and the means to travel…… what more do you need in life? As I said when I started this journey, Wisconsin is my home, but the world is my playground! 

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Riding Camels!!!!

We got up at 6:30am to leave our hotel by 7am to see the sunrise over Gadisar Lake. There was too much fog, so we couldn’t really see the lake, but it was still very beautiful. We get back to the hotel and have breakfast on the rooftop. It is amazing how cold it is in the mornings and then things quickly heat up by mid-day. It was nice sitting with your warm chia, looking over the city with the chill in the air and waiting for the fog to burn off.

Our next stop was Jaisalmer Fort. It was like a city within the city. People lived there and the fort walls and nooks and crannies were filled with street vendors selling their crafts. Amberee, Nina, Emily and I went to one of the rooftop restaurants in the fort, and had amazing chia, while again taking in the city views.

We went back to our hotel and before we left town we stopped at Patwa Haweli. It was a museum preserving the history of Indian life and culture. We stopped at few market places, but I think at the moment we were shopped out.

Next stop the desert. We get to our basecamp and we all chill after the long car ride with chai while our guides are getting our camels ready for us. Our guides tells us they are ready and the six of us walk out to meet our camels. My camel was named Babaloo. He seemed a little feisty. The guide helps you on with you putting your foot on a strap to hoist yourself up and swing your leg over. The guide then has you lean back, as the camel gets up on their front feet and then lean back as they get up on their back. I must admit it is a little scary at first. Once on the camel, all those years of riding horse when I was young came in handy. Squeeze at the knees and hang on to the horn.

Our guides walked about a mile into the desert to watch the sunset over the sand dunes. Once we got to our spot, we dismounted and we sat and just enjoyed the amazing view. A guy with a motor bike drives appears like a mirage and he has chips and beer. Of course you have to buy. It was surreal. Sitting in the desert, eating chips, drinking a beer watching the sunset next to your camel. Once in a life time opportunity for sure.

Once the sun set, we got back on our camels and we headed back to base camp. My guide had Babaloo break out into a bit of a run on the way back. Lets just say riding a horse is a much smoother ride. Once back to camp, we sat and enjoyed live folk dance and music. The music got done about 8ish and then we had dinner back at base camp. There was two other groups in our camp as well. A husband and wife couple, and then two very attractive guys, from Switzerland and Chile traveling for a bit together.

We had the option of sleeping in huts at the basecamp or sleeping in the desert. You only live once, so we all opted for sleeping in the desert. When would you have that opportunity again. Our guides loaded up a cart full of blankets and we crawled on top. I was the first one up, and I fell backwards off the mound of blankets and my head ran went right into the ass of the camel. The guide caught my balance before I fell off. We all climb aboard including “Rambo” (our driver – we call him this because of his Army jacket he wears most days). Our guide walks us out into the desert. We get to our spot for camping and guide said, cold night, sleep right on sand to stay warm. Pictures from other groups we saw, there beds were a bit off the ground. Nope not us, added to the adventure. Our guide and Rambo, cleared a spot in the sand and started putting down all the blankets and pillows for us to sleep on.

 

Thank goodness I put on lots of layers, so once under the blankets I did start to warm up, and once you lay on your back and look at all the stars laying on the hard sand and being cold is all worth it. I never saw so many stars. We even saw a few shooting stars.

In the middle of the night, I had to pee so bad. I got up from my warm sand cocoon I made for myself, and use the light of my phone to walk over to some bushes. The sand was so deep and hard to walk in and I must admit, it was a bit scary walking in the desert in the middle of the night, but when nature calls.

The only thing that dampened the time was Emily complaining. She was complaining about the cold, but yet, she didn’t put any extra layers on like the rest of us. She just had on a thin jumper and a cardigan. Then she complained she couldn’t sleep because of my snoring. She knew I snored, so she shouldn’t have slept next to me. The rest of the girls all slept. Complaining and negativity I think is part of who she is. She complained or had a snarky comment about most things on this trip. She’s young, 24, I think, hopefully later in life she can look back on this journey and learn from it. Life is to short to go around pissing and moaning all the time and in a different cultural setting such as this, you have to be flexible.

We wake up the next morning and the top layer of blankets is soaked. It is so weird. It didn’t rain, it was all wet from the morning dew. It was so beautiful watching the sun come up over the horizon, again, once in a life time opportunity.

Our guide loads up all the blankets and bedding back on the cart and we load up again back to base camp. They have hot chia tea waiting for us which is just perfect. We have a light breakfast of toast, hard boiled egg and banana. The rest of the groups are getting back too and look about as rough as we do. Sleeping in the desert is not for wimps! We talk to the cute guys for a bit and learn about where they are from (Switzerland and Chile) and then we load up again for the drive to Jodhpur.

India – 2 / Jody – Zero

New Years Day we left for our week of travel. I must admit, I was a wee bit hung over from our roof top celebration the night before.

It was such a fun time. We had a fire on the rooftop and a case of beer and we played music and then at midnight Pranay came up and we lit off fireworks. These were not your little fireworks either! After we got done, it looked like bomb went off on top of the roof.

We arrived in Pushkar and checked into our hotel. The hotel was beautiful, but the bathroom totally stunk. I can’t figure it out, in all the hotel bathrooms they put these white balls in the sink, like the things you would find in a mens restroom urinal and they stink like that too.

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We freshened up a bit and then went to this place for lunch. It looked like a decent place. Nice outside tables and chairs. We all ordered different food and when they came, all the sauces looked the same. Olivia found paper in her food. I am not sure if was being hung over, or the food (I just ate my nan and a few bites of my paneer) but I was not feeling good.

It was not a good time to not feel good, as after we walked to the market in Pushka. This was one of the biggest markets and people, cows ands motorcycles everywhere!!! I thought I might have to get sick at one point and I went into this public toilet and I had to walk right back out. It was so disgusting and it was a squat toilet. I was not about to do that in that place. I did manage to get all my shopping complete for gifts for people and while I was standing at a booth, waiting for some of the other girls to finish up, I got rammed in the front of my thigh by the head of a bull. People all around me, and that sucker went in for a direct hit. I am really surprised I don’t have a bruise on my thigh.

We all shopped until we were about ready to drop. We got back to the hotel and I was so tired and all I wanted was a hot shower and bed. The rest of the girls went out to eat and I decided to hang back. Besides having an icky feeling tummy, I was starting to get a cold. I go to get in the shower, and it is ice cold water. This is normal in India, so you just have to let it run a bit, nope, still ice cold. I washed up best I could and I was so stinking cold after that shower I had on three layers under the covers. By now it is only 7:30pm, so I planned to just get warm under the covers and connect to the free hotel WIFI and check out everyones New Year plans since it was not even 2017 yet back home. WIFI wasn’t working for me either….. I just decided to call it a night. India – you got me on this day!

Monday, January 2nd –

I was feeling much better today especially after 10 hours of sleep. We had breakfast at our hotel and then we were on the road by 9am. We had a 9 hour drive ahead of us to Jaisalmer. We stopped in Jodhpur for lunch. but the place looked a bit sketchy. I ordered nan – can’t go wrong with just bread. Back in car we go.

imageWe get into Jaisalmer about 6:00pm, check into our hotel, freshen up, and then we go to eat. By this time we are all starving because we hardly ate anything for lunch. The place we went to was called Junction Palace. They had a nice roof top restaurant but it was quite chilly so we ate inside instead.

After dinner, we came back to the hotel to call it a night. I as so looking forward to a hot shower since I didn’t get the night before. Turn on the water – IT’S HOT….. but only for about a minute. Looks like another cold shower for me! You got me again India!

Last day of School

Friday, December 30 – Last Day of School

Today was my last day of school with the kids. It was bitter sweet knowing that I wouldn’t see these sweet little faces anymore. When I was in Africa five years ago, I brought a pair of new TOMS Shoes and I had the children I worked with write on my shoes, pictures, their name, scribbles and they are something I will always treasure from that trip. I did the same thing for this trip. I ordered a new pair of cream TOMS and I had Amberee translate to the older students that I wanted them to write their name or general words in Hindi. My shoes look amazing. I simply love them.

As we wrapped up the school day and we got back in the tuk tuk, it was hard not to get sad as you see all the children running after you “Bye Dee Dee” “See you tomorrow” and they wont.

We came back to the house and at 1pm, a new girl arrived in the house. Amy is from Melbourne, Australia and is a teacher. She is here for the four week program. While she was dealing with her lost luggage, the original five of us went to Hypercity Shopping center in Jaipur. Yes, they do have malls here.

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We walked around and I got a good coffee from Cafe Coffee Day (the “Starbucks” of India.) Olivia got a new kurta and I got a new shirt and scarf for the week of travel.

We came back to the house around 6pm, and then I just vegged out for the rest of the night, trying to prep and repack for our week of travel starting on Sunday.

Here is our itinerary:

Sunday – Leave to drive to Pushkar at 9am (4 hour drive), check into our hotel and then have rest of day to shop at the markets.

Monday – Drive to Jaisalmer from Pushkar (7 hour drive) and arrive around 5pm and visit Jaisalmer Fort and markets.

Tuesday – Visit to Gadisar Lake and site see in Jaisalmer and Patwa Haweli and then we drive to the desert. At 5pm we take a camel ride and have dinner, live folk dance and music and we sleep in the desert that night.

Wednesday – We leave early and head to Jodhpur for sites seeing and markets.

Thursday – Travel back to Jaipur and arrive home around 6pm.

Friday – At 3pm they take me back to the Delhi airport and then I fly out Saturday at 12:45am.

This morning, we had another new girl come, Nina. She is from California. It will be Amberee, Emily, Olivia, Amy, Nina and myself going on the week of travel. Luna already did her week.

Tonight is New Years Eve and we will be having a celebration on roof top with food, drink and fireworks.

As I reflect back on 2016, its been a year of lots of first – My first half marthon (and only), my first trip to India and still so many first in Madison as I am going on a year and a half living there now.

Cheers to 2017!!!

Sites of Jaipur and More

Wednesday, December 28:

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Emily was still not feeling great on Wednesday, so she stayed home again from teaching school. Thank goodness Gopi was there to help me again when they got a little wild. We got there a little early, and all the kids were seated on a blanket and Gopi was having them stand up and was looking at their hands and talking to them in Hindi. I asked Luna what was going on and she said he was looking at their nails and had them smile to see if they had clean teeth. If no, he would send them to the sink house to wash up.

I started with the alphabet and then broke it down into words. I am finding they are memorizing the alphabet, but when you ask some of them what letter it is not saying the entire alphabet, they don’t know. I tried to work one on one best I could with some that I saw struggling.

During play time, a truck came to fill there water tank so that added some extra excitement to the day. Next we went on to work on math skills. Some of them are really bright in knowing there numbers and how to add. Again, I tried to work one-on-one but it is hard when they are all trying to get your attention, yelling “Dee Dee” – which means Sister. That is what they called all of us.

Drinking our chia in the textile shop.

Drinking our chia in the textile shop.

After school we had lunch and good news was Emily was feeling better and food and water was staying down but continued to rest for the day. Olivia, Luna and I had Shakeer pick us up to do some shopping. He is so sweet, we get in the tuk tuk and he had mini bottles of special perfume he had made for each of us. It smelled so good. He also had a box of sweets for us. (An Indian dessert). We wanted to go to the market and he said he knew of some places to get nice textiles not the tourist shops. He took us to a textile place and the shop owner reminded me of Danny Devito. He made us all chia tea and then he showed us all sorts of samples for pants and kurta (India style shirt). We got to pick out a fabric we wanted and then they measured us, and were hand making them and will be delivered a day later. I got a pair of pants and a kurta hand made for $28 US dollars! Olivia also got pants and a beautiful scarf made for her on site. Both her and Luna also tried on sari’s. Very beautiful.

Next stop Shakeer took us to was for jewelry. We went to a shop with real silver and stones. I picked up quite a few gifts for family and friends.

By this time it was almost 7pm, and Shakeer took us back in time for dinner. After dinner, we just chilled out and I was in bed by 10pm. I can’t believe how tired I am at the ends of some of these days.

Thursday, December 29:

Emily was feeling better and was able to join the rest of us teaching today. Hard to believe this was our second to the last day. It’s exhausting when you are there, but then when you leave, all those sweet voices “dee dee” “Bye” “See you tomorrow”. I just hope my week I spent with them will impact their life in some way. Two of the students, in just a couple days, I have seen actual improvement in their math skills. I write addition tables in their note books and have them answer, and when they come up to show me, if all are correct “good job” and I put a smiley face on there paper. They really want to please and do a good job. Some get mad when I tell them they have a wrong answer, but I try to explain and use my fingers for them to count, and then once we figure it out together, then “good job”? I say yes, “good job”.

We had Shakeer pick us up again after lunch and we headed to some sights based on his recommendation. First up was Gaitor – it is the marble cenotaphs of the Kachhawaha kings enclosed in the walled garden just below Nahargarh Fort. It was beautiful, and if you climbed to the top of one of the buildings, you saw an incredible view of the city.

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Our next stop was Panna Mian ka Kund built in the 17th century by a eunuch Panna Mian, a leading figure at the court of Raja Jai Singh.

We finished up our night with a quick stop to take pictures of the Jai Majal, or better know as the “water palace” and stopped at a few markets.

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Made it back in time for dinner at 7pm, and now all of us are just cleaning up a bit because there are two more girls moving in on Friday. Can’t believe tomorrow is my last day at the school.

Teaching the Street Kids

First Day of School

Today was my first day of teaching the street kids in the school Sankalp has set up. Emily and I had eleven children ranging in age from 6-8 but their ability to read, write and math varied immensely. School days start at 9:30am and we are done at 12:30.

The first thing I noticed was there beautiful smiles meeting us for the first time. We were like a “shiny new penny” to them. We were met by Gopi, who managed the school. He rounded up the class for us, and talk a little bit about what they know and what to work on.

There they were all sitting with their maroon sweaters on, crossed legged on a blanket looking at us. Emily and I started out with the alphabet and wrote all the letter on the chalk board and we went through them. All in unison there little voices. Next we worked on words – Apple, Boy, Cat…. By this time, we were starting to lose them a bit. All the children are at different levels so it is hard to assess who is more advanced to give harder words to and who needs some extra attention. The language barrier is also a factor.

Gopi had to come around a few times and tell the kids in Hindi to basically sit down and listen. We (and others before and after us) are trying our best to better these kids lives. Without this program, these kids wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school or have any chance of getting an education based on their home life. It is still a struggle to teach with very little resources and a structured curriculum.

Monday after school, we get back to our house by 1:00pm in time for lunch made by Puni. After lunch, Amberee, Emily, Olivia and myself we head to Galti Ji (also know as the Monkey Temple.) Galta Ji is a large Hindu Temple complex unique in that it is centered around a natural spring that has been channeled to fill seven large pools people pilgrimage to. It was a rough ride out there by tuk tuk. One of the main roads where closed so we had to go this back way and I think the roads were all pot holes and speed bumps, it also doesn’t help when you have four packed in the back seat. Emily wasn’t feeling good, but was trooper in going, but that ride, and the smells did not help someone feeling like they could vomit every 5 minutes.

We finally make it after an hour and half in the tuk tuk. The place was beautiful. You walk in and the first thing you notice is monkeys everywhere. You can buy peanuts to feed them, and they will crawl on you. I have to admit, monkeys creep me (pardon my language) — THE FUCK OUT! I am ok looking at them, but to have them jump on me, hell no. I bought a pack of peanuts and just the site and sound of the bag crunching I had multiple come after me, and one attempted to climb my leg to get the peanuts in my bag.

Nope, not happening. Olivia and Amberee, took a motor bike up to the top of the mountain to see the Sun Temple. Emily, got sick again and so her and I just sat on a bench at the front of the park waiting for those two. Back in the tuk tuk and made it home just in time for Puni’s dinner for us.

Between kids and monkeys, I was ready for a hot shower to wash the dirt and germs off me.

Second Day of School:

Emily wasn’t feeling well yet, so I was one my own with the class. Thank goodness Gopi was there to assist me, and get the kids back in line, when they got a little wild. They are really good at knowing the letters in order, but once you mix them up, they really don’t know. I went over words and how to spell them focusing on what each letters was. Reading and vocabulary is tougher for them than math. Again I contribute it to a language barrier.

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It was interesting, that while we were teaching, a plane went over. All kids stopped what they were doing and ran over to the fence and was yelling, plane, plane…. They found it fascinating this big thing in the sky. I hope one day, when they grow up they can experience being in a plane that takes them some place amazing.

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We get home from school, and Emily was feeling a bit better after sleeping all day. We had lunch and then Shakeer picks us up in his tuk tuk. Shakeer is a really nice guy. He is one of the main tuk tuk drivers that the organization uses. He took us to multiple ATM’s the day before and this day to find money.

There is a money shortage in India. All the 1000 and 500 rupee notes are no longer good and you had a time to trade in, and after that they are worthless. During that time with everyone cashing in for other denominations, there was a money shortage. At the airport I was only allowed to cash in $70.00 which was over 4,000 rupees. We finally found an ATM with money in it and I was able to take out 2,500 rupees. Money goes along way here. A tuk tuk ride into the city, we negotiated a rate of 150 rupees or $2.21 US dollar.

Now that we have money, we are off to go see Elephants. We travel through the town again, and I am just taking in the sites and sounds. We get to this one place, and the Elephants are in a small area and have chains on their ankle. I do go up and pet them as Shakeer assured they were properly cared for. Some of the girls didn’t feel comfortable with this place, so Shakeer took us to a different one, where they are more in the open. We arrive at Elephant Village and yes, this place is much better. Wide open spaces.

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Olivia and I pay 600 rupees to pet, feed and take our picture on the elephants. It was amazing. Such big animals, but so gentle. When it came time to taking our picture, the guide was like, do you want to get on the real way – by the truck…. You only live ones, so up I go! I mounted the elephant by stepping on is truck and walking up his head to his back. It was so fantastic, I felt like I was on top of the world.

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After we let the Elephant Village, we went for dinner at The Stag. We sat upstairs of the restaurant and had a beautiful view of Amber Fort. After dinner we plan to go to see the light show, and we find out as we get there that we missed it. It was a good thing, because Emily got sick again, and so we squish in the tuk tuk again and Shakeer takes us home.

Hard to believe I have been here almost a week now. This trip is flying by and it is more than I ever expected.

Christmas at the Taj Mahal

imageDay 4 & 5:

Luna (from Brussels, Belgium), Amberee (from London, now living in Bombay) Emily (from Liverpool, London), Olivia (from Germany)  and I started off at 9am from the house. We met up with our driver, Aditzal, who was taking us the five hour trip into AgrThe drive at that time of the morning was crazy. You had busses, tuk tuk’s, bicycles, motorbikes, cars and people all fighter to get through on the roads and it is a constant honking. It really is organized chaos. We finally get out of Jaipur to a more open road. The scenery and people where beautiful. Going through, what I assume are little villages and you had homes (shacks) built on the side of the roads as part of the roadside markets or you could see them tucked farther back and men, women and children walking to start their day. I am amazed at what I assume are some of the poorer areas, the women always had the most beautiful Saris on. Brightly colored, some jeweled, and simply lovely.

I saw men herding goats and sheep, children walking to school, women carrying big bushels of sticks on their heads. I also saw men peeing on the side of the road and against stone walls, peddlers at every toll booth we came across selling something, cattle and dogs roaming the streets and garbage strewn about was more the normal than not.

The beauty of a trip like this is to see real life, but with real life there are things you are going to see and can’t believe people live like that. You have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and reserve judgment.

This is their normal, their way of life and we are the outsides.

We finally get to Agra about 2:15pm and we are starving, our driver takes us to a restaurant called Pind Balluchi and we have Amberee order for us. She is from London, but now lives in Bombay and speaks English and Hindi. Our meal was wonderful and I had my first India beer – Kingfisher. We come out from the restaurant and our driver, Aditzal, has on a santa hat. It was pretty cute.

Next stop our hotel. We checked in and freshen up a bit and then we are back in the van and we head to Agra Fort. Agra Fort is the former imperial residence of the Mughal Dynasty. It was simply beautiful. I can’t imagine what it looked like in its original day dating back to the 1500’s. The five of us walked around and took in the sites, took lots of pictures and then we went down to a market. It was not a true market but more of a mix of Indian and American Brand stores. We didn’t do any shopping. We just walked down the one side of the street and then we went back to the hotel.

We had a little downtown before our driver took us to dinner. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to eat India food, western food or others and in the end we went back to the same restaurant we ate lunch in. It was good and it was decorated for Christmas so we thought it would be nice to spend Christmas Eve her together.

After dinner, I was in a food come and exhausted. Back to the hotel and I was sleeping by 9:00pm. I am awake again now at 1:30am writing about my day. Tomorrow at 7:30 am we are all meeting in the lobby for our guide and he is taking us to the Taj Mahal. What an amazing Christmas present!!!

Day 5:

It is Christmas Day and we are on our way back to Jaipur at 10:30am from Jaipur. I think I need someone to pinch me after seeing the Taj Mahal in person! Words can’t even describe how beautiful it is.

imageWe met our guide at 7:30am at our hotel, and then we walked a few blocks to get to the Taj Mahal. It was bit foggy at first but the sun was trying to make its way out. As we walked our guide gave us the history of the Taj Mahal and pointed out the most amazing parts of it. The part that struck me, was first it took 22 years to build, second all the script work, and flower inlay are precious stones all cut by hand and laid in the marble. The marble details are another one of the beauties you discover once you get up close.

Being there in front of one of the Seven Wonders of the World was simply breathtaking. Once our guide took us around and explained the history of being built and the meaning behind some of the architecture he left us for an hour for us to go around and take pictures on our own.

We met back up with our guide and got a bus back to our hotel. We had breakfast at the hotel, and I just tried to really grasp what I just saw. We checked out at 10:30am and we were back on the road back for 5+ hours back to Jaipur.

When we got home, Puni, who lives in the house full time and is cooks all our meals, had the place beautifully decorated and we had a lovely basket of goodies (chocolate, wine, biscuits) from Amita and Pranay, who run the Sanklap Society organization. They also joined us for our Christmas feast.

Christmas is a time to be with family, but “family” can come in many shapes and sizes and for this year, I am grateful to celebrate with my new Sanklap family!

Merry Christmas to all and no matter where or who you are with, I hope you made it the best!!!

My Travel to India!

India Adventure – Day 1

I am sitting in O’Hare Airport, terminal 2 waiting to board my first flight to Toronto on Air Canada. I have to say, I love airports. The mix of so many people from so many different places and all with a different story on where they are going and why.

The first leg of my journey was fantastic! Anyone living in Madison, and if you are looking to go to Chicago (Airport or Downtown) I highly recommend the bus. I took an Uber from my house to the bus pick up location (800 University on the UW Campus) and it was only $10. I boarded the bus at 8:30am, and I was dropped off right at my gate by 11:15. Round trip bus ticket is $60.00. You can’t go wrong for that price.

I checked in at my gate flying Air Canada, and I loved how the attendants interchanged english and french. Madame Meyer would be proud that I could understand bits and pieces of what they were saying.

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First stop, magazine shop – air travel is the time to allow myself the guilty pleasure of buying trashy gossip magazines, grab a giant bottle of water and find a quite spot to charge up and reflect on the journey I am about to begin.

Am I nervous? Not really, it is more nervous excitement. I think my mother is worrying enough for me, but then again, no matter what age you are, that’s what Moms do.

For those of you who don’t know I am going to India to do volunteer work with the organization Sankalp Volunteer. Five years ago, I did an international service trip to Swaziland with the organization Heart for Africa. It was one of most amazing trips of my life. I have been searching since then to find other organizations with a program similar to Heart for Africa. I love the fact that I can pay a flat fee (some people do fundraise for their trips, but I do enough of that in my day to day world) and everything is taken care of when I get there. Place to stay, meals, travel within the country and I have people that can speak the language and help me navigate this new land. The best part of these types of trips is getting to actually experience real people and day to day life. You are not just hitting the “tourist” parts.

Getting to experience different cultures, meet new people and see new corners of the word is why I continually have a wanderlust for travel. Wisconsin will always be my home, but the world is my playground.

Day 1 – Extended

My first flight out of Chicago to Toronto went well. We had a slight delay in boarding, and in that time while waiting, I struck up a conversation with a cute guy from London, all from saying “Bless You” when he sneezed. I must admit, I think the British accent is one of the sexiest accents out there. I was hoping by fate, we would have been sitting next to each other, but, he was 5 rows up from me. He did look behind at me as he was exiting the plane and gave me a little smile and wink. Swoon!

The Toronto airport has a very weird set up when you get off the plane. You are confined to this long glass corridor, that you keep walking until you are escorted by an airline worker to a customs area and then you are allowed in the main gate area to find your connecting international flight. I had to pee so bad when I got off the plane, and when I asked the lady, who was going to escort me to the next area where the bathroom was, she said not until your gate, half way across the airport. She then said, let me take you to this one downstairs for staff. She was so nice. I don’t think I would have made it across the airport.

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I finally got to my gate for my flight to Delhi. We had a 30 minute delay. Instead of 9:20, boarding was at 9:50. As I looked around, there was people from all ethnic backgrounds waiting to board. In this one area we have people that speak many different languages, but the one thing that transcends in any language is a smile. By just smiling at someone – being a flight attendant, fellow passenger, gate attendant, you can see their mood and face change.

We board the plane, and there is some weather in Toronto that delays us on the tarmac. Our plane has to be de-iced. We sat on the tarmac waiting for takeoff for an hour and 20 min. I didn’t really notice the time because thank goodness we have a tv screen in the headrest of the seat in front of us. I was busy watching Bad Moms! Finally in the air – total flight time is 12.5 hours and my eta to Dehli is now 11:00pm.

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From Day 1 to Day 3 –

It is now 7:45am on December 23 – I made it to my new home for two weeks in Jaipur. It reminds me of the youth hostels I stayed in when I was in Scotland and did the whole backpacking thing. It was a little bit of an adventure to get here. I got off the plane and got through customs, exchanged some money, got my bag and then walked toward the exit and I was never so happy to see a middle aged Indian gentlemen holding up a piece of paper with my name on it. He was my driver to take me to Jaipur.

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It is about 280 Kilometers from Delhi to Jaipur. After 14+ hours of being on a plane, I had another 5+ in a car. We left the airport about midnight. The city was still jammed pack with traffic and as we hit the highway I couldn’t believe how many vehicles where on the road at that time of night. My driver told me his name, but I don’t remember what it is. He barely spoke any english, so it was a quite car ride besides the Indian music playing. I was amazed at all the little open “roadside” shops along the highway. We got about an hour in and my driver stopped to eat, I was not hungry so I stayed in the car while he ate at a roadside stand. I didn’t know if I wanted to be that adventurous only 2 hours being in India. We get back on the road and a little while later stop for gas. Navigating the Indian traffic was insane. There is no way in hell I could EVER drive in this country. No one uses the lanes, people are darting in and out of switching imaginary lanes and I think a few times there was only inches between us and the next vehicle with the tailgating, oh, and lets not forget all the honking.

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It is about 3am now, and my driver asks if he can pull over to sleep an hour. I don’t want him falling asleep, so I say ok. He pulls over along the highway, and puts his seat back and is snoring in 2 minutes. By this time, I am exhausted as well, so I do the same. A little cat nap off an Indian highway at 3am with a strange guy that just picked me up….. Brave or stupid… not sure, but all turned out ok. Back on road by 4:30. At about 5:30, my driver says stop for tea? I think he says stop to pee, so I am all for it. Lost in translation there. Either way, we accomplish both. About half hour out of the city, we stop at this open roadside shop/cafe and we order chia tea. It was surreal — here I am in India, at 5:30am drinking tea from a road side stand off the highway taking in all the sites and sounds around me.

imageI get to the house at about 6am, just as the sun was coming up. I was greeted by Puni, who lives here in the house and is also our cook for our lunch and dinner. She helped me to my room and made me coffee. The house is still asleep so I am taking this time to reflect and document everything while it is fresh in my head…. speaking of that, along the road while driving, I saw people leading camels and as we got into town, sure shit — cows everywhere wandering the streets. Looking forward to what the rest of this day has in store for me.

Day 3 – Continued…. I met the rest of the girls in the hours. Emily, who is one year away from her nursing degree is from Liverpool and also on the two week program like me. The rest of the girls have already been here for awhile and have their work placement. The four of them went off by 9am to the school to teach and work with the street kid program.

I had to keep moving or I would have crashed hard and I didn’t want to sleep my first day away. Finally I got a chance to shower after leaving my house at 8am on Dec 21st! Pure heaven. Emily and I decided to take a tuk tuk into town and find an Indian market. Let’s just say thank goodness I have a chiropractor appointments scheduled first thing when I get home because I will need it!!! It’s crazy – darting in and out of traffic, the honking, speed bumps, rough roads, cows in the middle of the road, people everywhere, camels used for travel….. those are just a few of the sites and sounds from my first tuk tuk ride.

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We eventually found a market and went into a few shops. I did end up getting two scarves. One for myself and one for a gift. We came back to the house for 1pm lunch and it was very delicious. After lunch we went up to the roof top to soak up the sun’s rays while we waited until our 3pm orientation with Amita.

She went over how Sankalp started, the history of the organization and the programs that they support. Based on our length of stay, we are going to be teaching street kids in school. Emily and I are going to team teach the kids 4-6 building upon their current knowledge and work with them on  colors and words to go with the colors, basic body parts and math.  We start that on Monday, Dec 26 for one week.

Sitting during the orientation I was starting to hit the wall. I almost fell asleep during it. After we got done going over our program, house rules and other basic information we should know Emily and I walked to the grocery store so she could get a few items. Got back to the house at 7pm, had dinner, cooked by Puska, and then I was ready for bed. It was 7:30 and I was out cold… and now it is 10:30 and I am wide awake writing this.

Tomorrow I am super excited for our overnight trip into Agra and to see the Taj Mahal.

Give it Forward

Every day I try to live my life in a mindful way and treat others as I want to be treated. As we are rounding the corner to November 1st and Thanksgiving, I like to use this month as a “check in” with myself. A friend of mine, posted this “Give it Forward” chart on Facebook, and I loved it (except for #4 – no one wants me to sing)  Very simply, but meaningful tasks that we all can do to bring a smile to someones face, make their day a little brighter and bring joy to others, as well as yourself.  Starting November 1st, I will give it a try. The items might be out of order, but I will try completing all (or a version of them) and write about it along the way.  Who wants to join in?

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