A Travellerspoint blog

An eventful week in Rajasthan...

sunny 33 °C

Hola bonitas y guapos!

I've been very naughty and it's been over a week since I've written, but there's much to update on. It's currently Tuesday morning and I’m just at breakfast before school. Only four more days!

Last Sunday, where I last left you, was the night we arrived in Jaisalmer. I must say I think it was one of my favourite places so far. After the long drive from Pushkar (I think like 9 hours!) we finally arrived at the hotel, which was awesome! As we were divying out the room keys we were given the only room outside by the pool, which I was pretty excited about. I can only really compare the room we were given to stepping into a mystical Mexican brothel; as you walk through the cloud of incense smoke that guards the door you notice that every wall is painted a different (blindingly bright) colour, encrusted with small square mirrors and hand-painted images of ganesh or elephants etc. The walls looked like they were made from dung or clay bricks, and any surface that wasn't painted was draped in bright and shiny fabrics. I actually felt kind of displaced being there without being high as a kite on mushrooms or something. Elena thought it was a bit much but I must admit that I loved it, and have gain some inspiration for the next time I have my own room.

After we got settled we met Annabel, Ian and Tineke up on the rooftop restaurant, where we discovered why Jaisalmer is often referred to as the 'Golden city' - it has an amber tinge, as the buildings are all made from some material that looks kind of like sandstone. Very pretty. We had some beers and dinner and rambled on for many hours before eventually going back downstairs and hitting the bed for our early morning the next day.

On Monday morning we were due to leave at 6am to watch the sunrise at Gadisar Lake, a popular thing to see in Jaisalmer. However, I forgot to set an alarm and Annabel scared the crap out of me coming to get us so early. We rushed out but it turns out we had to wait 20 minutes for Mr Singh (the van driver) who had been a hilariously useless driver the whole trip. Soon we got to the lake and I must say the early rise was beyond worth it. It had some little temples around it and in the water and there were some amazing photo opportunities. After gazing for a while we walked a bit around the lake and came across two Indian men feeding hundreds of eels. They're kind of disgusting but it was cool to see. The younger of the men then asked me to take photos of the older one (I was sceptical and thought he'd charge me for a photo) but he actually wanted me to print them and send them to him. I have his address but I doubt I'll send them. He also made me follow them up some stairs and watch him feed birds which was sweet, but after a while we left and got back in the van to go to the hotel for breakfast. Breakfast wasn't bad (especially in comparison to the food at our hotel in Pushkar), but I was very tired and decided to have a bit of a nap while Elena went for a walk. I also attempted to shower but, like in Pushkar, the shower wasn't quite right, so I bathed under the tap.

Elena returned from her walk and told me she'd gone up for a walk around the fort which sounded really cool, so we went up again. It's much more alive than other forts that I've been to and seems like a local little village kind of thing (though it is definitely designed for tourists). When we got there Elena took me up through a few little archways to a balcony with really beautiful views of the whole city. We then walked around for a while; the fort is like a small city with lots of sandstone (or whatever the material is) buildings and small narrow alleyways. It's very alive with the walls lined with different fabrics and tables of cute handmade notebooks and things. People and children are everywhere, as are cows of courses, but the alleys are very small so it feels like you're in an isolated town with some electric vibe. I think it was my favourite fort.

I think there are also some temples and buildings you can enter in the fort but we didn't do that and instead just enjoyed the atmosphere. We had to go back to meet the group and on our exit we bumped into Mr Singh (the useless driver) who seemed to try to be convincing Elena and I to join he and his friend for breakfast. It was kind of awkward and just confirms our perception of how weird he is.

We all got into the cars (this time I was with Zakir in the small car - the cutest driver in the world and much more comfy than the van) and headed on our way to Patwa Haweli, which was similar to the fort. We waited forever for the other group (Mr Singh being useless again) but eventually they came and we looked inside the main building. It was like a house-cum-museum which showed the ancient bedrooms, clothes, kitchens etc. It was kind of boring because I'm not really into that but the views on the roof were nice. I then went on my own and wandered around the narrows streets of the area which had many houses and a few little shops, watching kids walking home from school and old women washing their verandahs. It was very nice to wander around (though a little smelly) but soon we were back in the car to head back to the fort we'd been to in the morning, this time with the rest of the group. Annabel, Elena and I found a restaurant just outside the fort to get some lunch, though the competition for tourist business at restaurants is pretty entertaining, some even claiming to be 'Recommended by every foreign country guide book'. (We looked in Lonely Planet and what a surprise they weren't featured). I felt like Western food again and ordered 'Macaroni with Italian Sauce' but it was like pasta with ketchup and the sauce you have for sweet-and-sour pork.

Anyway, after lunch we went back into the fort because Annabel hadn't been and walked around a bit. There was one jewellery stall I'd really liked but I'm trying not to buy anything. Anyway, not much more eventful that I can remember - at about 2 we got back in the car ready for our drive out to the Thar Desert. Funnily enough, the excessive use of the horn does not subside even when in the completely isolated desert where not a single other person is in site. Zakir beeped at pretty much every speed hump in case there was a small goat or something lurking behind it.

When we arrived at the Mud Resort, which was our base camp, we had some tea and got ready for a camel ride. I was set up with a camel named Bubaloo (pretty cute) and my sort of 'guide'/camel controller was a super cute 11-year-old boy named Mehinda, who was very sweet and tried very hard. I'd been warned that it can be kind of frightening when the camel stands up, but I hadn't really paid attention to this warning and still squealed like a little bitch (both times the camel stood and both times it sat down). I'd never really looked properly at a camel before but their anatomical design is very interesting and kind of weird; their legs have two knees each, so the leg kind of folds backwards and it doesn't look very comfortable. We also noticed this flat stump under their chest that kind of looked like a tree trunk, which they use to rest on while sitting. They also look hilarious when they chew (June Dally Watkins certainly never taught them dinner etiquette).

We walked up into the dunes and sat for a while as the sun began to set. The warm sand was so delightful and it was just really peaceful. I'd always underestimated deserts but it really is beautiful (and I'm now quite fond of camels). I'm now even more inspired to do a northern/central Australia trip when I return.

As the sun was setting and it began to get dark we headed back to the base camp and I parted ways with Bubaloo and Mehinda to get ready for dinner. At the base they offered a folk dancing performance which was very cool, with a beautiful young dancing female and three musical men - one of whom clearly had a crush on Helma and wouldn't stop staring and smiling at her. One of the musicians got up and did a performance with fire, and afterwards the woman got us all to get up and dance with her. It was very embarassing but hilarious. Afterwards we were served dinner, featuring 'desert chapati' (aka cardboard) and a 'desert' afterward which I'm 80% sure contained camel milk, camel dung and sugar.

We then got ready for a night under the stars in the desert! We piled onto carts pulled by camels to take us out, and while waiting to go I saw a young girl outside the house next door, and started making random animal/ambulance/weird noises which she then imitated and we turned into a bit of a game. Then off we went to the desert, set up some beds and blankets and chatted and slept.

In the morning we woke to a funny Indian man (one of the camel attendants) who ordered us to start waking up and packing up. I went for a short walk (and weed in the Indian desert!) and enjoyed the beautiful sunset, and then we were back on our way to the base camp. We had a very sub-par breakfast and then piled into the respective van/cars and set on our way to Jodhpur.

At one point maybe 40 minutes out of the desert we all stopped on the road as a train was crossing the tracks. It was the first I'd seen and was very Darjeeling Limited-esque, making me very excited for our train mini-adventure next week. Finally we were back on our way...but not for long... as the car began to make some unsavoury noises. Soon enough, it stopped altogether.

As the van with the majority of our group had sped ahead we were stuck alone broken down in the desert. Zakir was desperately trying to call Mr Singh (who was once again useless and didn't answer) but eventually a ute with a few men stopped for us. They stared and prodded at the car for a while (as well as the three helpless white girls in the car) and after a while one of the men went over to a telegraph pole, clipped off some overhanging electrical wire, and tied it to the car, with the other end tied to the back of their ute. I was highly sceptical and incredibly surprised when it actually worked, and soon we were on our way. About five or ten minutes down the road we saw the van coming towards as as Mr Singh had finally been informed, which was lucky as at just that time our car detached from the ute. We then connected the car to the van instead, and we all piled into the van while Zakir sat in the small car steering. Two or three times it detached from the van and they had to re-tie the wire, but eventually we made it to a mechanic - in the end it turns out the wrong fuel had been put in the car.

After the eventful morning we finally continued on our way to Jodhpur, though the van seemed a bit tense. I had been a little worried about 12 girls (plus Ian) on a trip together, and I have sensed a little bit of bitchiness - with one particularly odd conversation about tipping, but it hasn't been too bad. I just have a unique stance on tipping as it is not very common and certainly not expected in Australia, whereas of course the American's here have different general standards on the issue. I have been tipping at times while travelling where I feel appropriate, however it is difficult with cultural differences even within the group, as one girl questioned the fact that I 'see all this poverty around me and earn like $40 an hour yet won't spare $4 for a driver'. I felt that a) this was really out of line, b) it is not another persons business how you choose to spend your money, and c)tipping a relatively well-paid driver (by Indian standards) will in no way help solve the issue of poverty in India. I didn't dwell on the comment for too long as I don't think it was well-justified, and I feel that the way I have chosen to spend my money on this trip will end up being more beneficial than over-spending on tips - I want to save my money to allow me to do other volunteer trips and study international relations courses, which will hopefully enlighten me to ways to help people in the bigger picture. That being said, I still tipped Zakir because as I said he is adorable! The issue was more about someone trying to dictate and judging my views, as well as some general bitchiness from other people in the car (though this may have been perceived bitchiness that was imagined in my head).

Anyway, I wrote far too long on that (and certainly hope that anyone who reads this is not offended by my views, but my purpose for this blog is a personal account of my memories). Regardless, we EVENTUALLY arrived in Jodhpur at around 4pm at the most wonderful hotel I've stayed at on this whole trip! It had lush gardens, a pool, giant bedrooms with four-poster beds, Western toilets, WiFi etc. I have never really felt an issue with slumming it a bit (and have developed a surprising resistence to regularly bathing), but being offered slightly luxurious Western comforts is really nice at times - I'm pretty excited to see my parents in Abu Dhabi and possibly even begin bathing daily/wearing clean clothes and underwear again. I'm also excited to not be pink - parts of my body are still pink from Holi and because my bra and some clothes have been dyed by it I think this may remain the case until I have access to a proper bath/body scrub and a good washing machine.

After relaxing a while (and checking my Facebook for the first time in a little while - sometimes it's nice to have an existence that doesn't revolve entirely around FB like it did in Sydney) we then went to check out Jodhpur city and the main markets. Basically, the city is kind of a shithole. We didn't have all that long at the market, but I did buy some really delicious tea at a spice shop. Nothing else really happened, except Elena stepped in wet cement which upset the owner, we saw two Indian albinos (which I haven't seen at all in my travels), and Elena's credit card wasn't working so we went on a bit of an ATM hunt.

After an hour or two we headed back to the van and there was Zakir waiting for us! Highly pleased, we made our way back to the hotel for a buffet dinner with the Dutch girls and a hilarious night of sharing terrible dance moves (I brought the Christmas tree and the 2-minute-noodle-dance to the table (....don't ask)).

On Wednesday morning Elena and I woke up early and had a romantic breakfast together on the restaurant balcony. It really is nice to have good service sometimes; I think I underestimated the occasional advice I received to book yourself into a nice hotel every once in a while. In saying that, when booking myself I’ve only been staying in very cheap places and have never been in a place where I’ve felt I need to leave, so I don’t feel luxury accommodation is valued by me as much as other people, but sometimes it is nice. In that sense, it was cool that Sankalp organised the trips for us, as I would never have considered staying at these hotels otherwise.

After breakfast I finally decided to have a much-needed shower, which was really nice as the water actually came out of the shower head and it was even almost lukewarm. Elena and I then decided to go for a walk, in hopes of seeing the city a bit more and finding last night’s spice shop to possibly buy some more stuff. However, our walk just made us realise even more than the city was dirty and smelly. I really hadn’t noticed these things very much but Elena does a lot which made me notice the difference in cities we visit. No part of India that I’ve visited has been ‘clean’ by any stretch of the imagination, but Jodhpur really was something else. Eventually we decided not to bother going all the way to the market and we headed on our way back to the hotel; though we got significantly lost and eventually gave in to getting a rickshaw back.

We apprehensively checked out of the beautiful hotel and got back into the car to visit the Jodhpur Fort, one of the main attractions in town. At this fort there was an audio-tour available which some of us took. We were in a bit of a rush because we’d chosen to hang out at the hotel so long, so we weren’t able to complete the tour, but I listened to a few things here and there which put it into context; it was a palace and had good defences against intruders. Some of the rooms were set up how they would have existed, which was nice, but I found that the most endearing quality of the fort were the views. If you had somehow managed to escape the city without noticing the pollution, you could now see it in full swing. There is a thick film of smog engulfing the city, and underneath the buildings have a very pretty essence as many of them are blue in colour; they were often washed in indigo to insulate from the hot temperatures.

We got some lunch at the café in the fort and then got ready for the drive home. It was pretty uneventful otherwise and soon we were home telling stories about our trips to all the people at home.

On Thursday we were back to life as normal and went to school, however this time Chloe and Daphnee (who taught the smaller class) had left and we had two new volunteers; Chinese Ian (who came on the trip) and French Coreo (not Croan…oops). Coreo had been teaching the older class with Sarah while we were all away, so I joined Ian on the younger class to help him settle in. Class went well, though the kids were insane, and at the end of the day Coreo came into our classroom because…. He’s a magician! He did a few little magic tricks which the kids loved (as did I) and yeah it was pretty cool to try something new.

Friday we were at school again, however sadly today was Sarah’s last day. Sasha and I organised her a card and got all the children to write their names on it, as well as a message from Asha and Zakir, and she weeped like a baby but I think she appreciated it. It was really sad but she’s been here for 2-3 months so I guess it’s time to go.

That night Elena, Sasha and I decided to go watch a Bollywood movie at the local cinema, Raj Mandir. That was quite an experience in itself… The cinemas are very big and have two levels with many seats, and I guess because it’s a Friday night it was packed out. The cinema experience is vastly different to that in Australia (or Spain and Holland apparently) – people talk loudly, answer their phones, and when the movie starts, something exciting happen, or a pretty lady walks into the scene, everybody cheers and whistles. Apparently sometimes people dance. The movies themselves are also obviously different; the one we watched was called ‘Agent Vinod’, about some spy and a bomb in Russia and something in Morocco and a pretty girl from Pakistan and blah blah. I actually think the casting director took some inspiration from Harry Potter, as there was a Russian mafia dude identical to Hagrid, a bad dude from Morocco who looked like Dumbledore, and some rich buyer who looked like Mad-Eye Moody. However I’m able to relate most things in life to Harry Potter. The movie was in Hindi but you could catch on pretty easily – and what we’ve noticed is that often when we hear things in Hindi (movies, TV, news etc) there are often many English words entwined in it. Possibly 50% Hindi-50% English. Very odd. I think it may be that words for more recent things have just adopted the English version, like we heard Zakir speaking Hindi but say ‘number plate’ in between. The movies are also incredibly long, and we decided after two hours during the intermission (yes they have intermissions) that we’d had enough for one night and went searching for some food. We stumble upon KFC – it was so nice to have some chicken.

When we got home some of the girls got back with a cake, ice cream, and some other weird dessert for Sarah’s going away. There was also a new couple that arrived, Jeff and Gui; an engaged couple from Taiwan/Boston. We ate and chatted for a while and eventually went upstairs to watch Purni’s favourite Bollywood movie – ‘Dirty Picture’. This I found much more interesting than ‘Agent Vinod’, but COMPLETELY over the top. It was also amazingly risqué for an Indian film and got kind of annoying at the end, but hey it was fun.

On Saturday we departed for our last weekend trip, this time to Ranthambore, which was… quite eventful. We only had a group of eight this time, and once again Elena, Sasha and I went in the car with Zakir. The drive wasn’t too long; about 3 or 4 hours, however as we were about 30 minutes away from our destination, we ran into a bit of trouble. And by trouble, I mean a pig. As we were driving through a small village relatively fast a medium size pig began to ran across the road, and as Zakir tried to beep at it it just ran faster. We heard and felt a bit of a thud, and something black flew across the road in a cloud of dust. We stopped at a car station 2 minutes up the road to check the car (I was interested in blood splatters…mm, haven’t had pork in a while…(kidding)). However, it was actually the pig who had damaged the car – the number plate and front bumper had been ripped off. We drove back to look for it but the pig wasn’t in site so it must have made a safe escape, and after some boys helped Zakir the number plate was retrieved too.

We were then on our way to Ranthambore Fort, but when we arrived they weren’t allowing any more entrants so we went to the hotel, Ranthambore Forest Lodge. It was a nice hotel, set in large lush green gardens with lodges spaced out and about four hotel rooms in each lodge building. We had some afternoon tea and then met with the others who had been at the fort before us. We had a buffet dinner (which ended up painfully expensive) but it was nice, and then I took my first shower in far too long (…Jodhpur) and we settled in to bed. However, the was not the end of this night…
At about 3am we had a visitor. By some chance Elena randomly opened her eyes, and there was a man standing over our bed. He just stood there, and after a few seconds she sat up a little and said ‘quien eres?’ – meaning ‘who are you?’, and he slowly and calmly walked out of the room. I woke up just as he was leaving, very confused about what had happened. We concluded that he was someone who had walked to the wrong room as the lodges all look identical, and stayed calm hoping that this was the most logical conclusion as our iPhones were still there and everything. Elena even speculated that it may have been a disabled man that we’d seen in the hotel the day before who was a bit ‘out of it’. The girls were pretty freaked out but I tried to keep my cool – though I must admit that I checked behind the shower curtain when I went to the bathroom. That’s the last time I forget to lock my door.

In the morning we had to get up at 6am to get ready for our safari in Ranthambore National Park. As we were getting ready we learnt that the our late night intruder was not just some ‘confused, lost, man’ – all of Elena’s money and her credit card, which had been in her bum-bag by the door, was gone. Suddenly that changed our understanding of everything and we were really freaked out, though it was so lucky that it was only money that he had taken – I assume he was on his way to our bed to take our iPhones which were charging on the bedside table. It really freaked me out, and makes me wonder how many times when my door has been locked someone might have come to my door to check, as no other rooms had been robbed but I’m sure he must have checked other locks. We spoke to management, who was a bit of an idiot and it appeared as though he didn’t believe us, but later in the day the head manager came in and sorted everything out in a much more professional manner – even repaying Elena the money which had been stolen, as it was part of their policy.
One slightly funny thing happened in that as we were talking to the manager in the lobby the mentally handicapped man that had been mentioned the night before was sitting at the lounge – it’s funny and embarrassing how naïve we were, thinking it was some random accident and even pitying the ‘poor guy who must have been so confused walking into our room’.

We then went to the restaurant to have tea before our safari, but wondered where the other girls were – to add insult to injury Elena’s clock was actually an hour wrong and we woke up at 5am instead of 6, and had to wait another hour before we left for our safari.

It turned out that the safari wasn’t really anything worth waiting around for. It was actually kind of painful, as the bumpy jeep hurt a lot. Apparently there are thirty tigers in the park, and we actually saw some foot prints which was cool, and saw a black sloth bear waaaay in the distance. I love them so I wish I’d seen it better but hey, it was something. Other than that we saw many deer and antelope which are pretty, some peacocks, monkeys, two bunnies and a jackal. The park itself wasn’t that beautiful either as it is very dry and baron at the moment – I think it would be nicer after the monsoon season, but I still liked it. We left a little early because we were a bit bored and wanted breakfast, within about two minutes back on the main road I saw ten times the amount of animals I’d seen in the park – camels, pigs, cows, water buffalo, monkeys and goats (which I have concluded are the most hilarious animals ever).

We went back for breakfast which was really nice, and then Sasha, Elena and I went off to Ranthambore fort as we hadn’t been able to the day before. They’d said it was their favourite fort, and I must say I think we would have liked it much more if it hadn’t been midday and we weren’t so tired. The fort was very different as it was set atop a mountain and was like a series of buildings within gardens, rather than just one big building. There were many locals there – I think the only other tourists we saw were when we bumped into Annabel and Tineke on the way out (who had gone to Ranthambore separate from the tour trip). However, the locals were tourists themselves but were more interested in taking photos of us rather than the fort itself – it gets really creepy and annoying. The most prominent feature of the fort though is its mass amounts of monkeys – probably even more than the Monkey Temple. I still have a bit of a fear of monkeys, but these were the black-faced species and were clearly very used to people, so they weren’t aggressive really. There were also heaps and heaps of fresh bubba monkeys clinging to their mums which was very cute.

We then got back in the car which was an air conditioned haven and a swift three-four hours later we were back at home, telling our various pig and robbery tales to all the others. At dinner we also met two new English girls who are doing the orphanage program, and then I had Spanish lessons with Elena! I’m considering now doing Spanish school in Barcelona rather than Gran Canaria as Elena’s convinced me it’s such a beautiful city.

Yesterday was a bit bittersweet because Sasha was leaving our room for Goa. I’m a teeny bit jealous of her sitting on the beach getting a tan right now, but I can’t wait to see her and the other Dutch girls in Holland in June.

Class went as normal, this time with Gui and Jeff joining us (but helping with the other classes) so ours went as usual. The kids really have been learning a lot – their maths improvement is really impressive, and phonetics too.

After class I came back for lunch and when the heat subsided a little Elena and I went to MI road to get my laptop screen fixed (which I am now typing on!) – it only cost $70 and took two hours. While we were waiting we went to Anokhi, a café lots of the girls talk about which has Western food and a cute little clothing store and things. I found some bracelets I really liked and asked about posting things to Australia, but it seems pretty pricey so I want to suss out some other options first. Elena also found a dress she loves so we’re going back for lunch this afternoon which is pretty exciting. In the building there’s also a nice bookshop, and I called Grandad for his birthday – I miss him and Grandma lot’s and it was so nice to speak to them!

We then went for a walk back to MI Road which wasn’t too far, picked up my laptop (yay) and then went back home for dinner.

And here we are! Only four more days of class left and soon enough I’ll be travelling again. Anyway, hopefully I will write in the next few days so it’s not such a pain to write nine days worth of events again.

Hope all is well – adios amigos!

Posted by georgiaellen 03:32 Archived in India Comments (0)

Oo oo ee ee ah ah

sunny 31 °C

It's currently Sunday afternoon and I'm on the home stretch of a ten hour drive from Pushkar to Jodhpur, typing this up on my phone to post the next time I get internet. The past few days have been quite nice, and as I've been driving for so long today (and a bit yesterday) I've had a lot of time to think, so this post may or may not end up being riddled with philosophical or thoughtful points that've been rolling around in my head lately. 

I think my last post was on Wednesday morning, so I'll start there. The day was pretty normal, as I was back at school. Elena was much better thankfully, and has decided to stay in India rather than go back to Spain, which I think will be good for her (and selfishly I'm very happy to remain in her company!). Back at school Sasha and I changed our teaching method a little, deciding to teach the class as a whole rather than split into two, as she had done the day before when I was absent. I was sceptical but it actually worked out really well. In the morning they were pretty good - it was very cute to rock up in the van seeing them sitting neatly in three lines ready for morning prayer singing. 'Bless their cotton socks' as Big Deb would say (although few of them have shoes let alone socks). 

In our class we had our regular eight, plus two more - a girl named Raj and a boy named Mukesh (another one). Raj has come to school a few times before but isn't very consistent, and when I was talking to Sarah she had mentioned that Raj was one of the kids that she worries about, as she is very very thin and often stays home to work so that her siblings can come to school (they come every day). Mukesh I'd never met before, but it was clear that both of them were struggling in class so I left Sasha to the other kids and took Raj and Mukesh outside for some one-on-two. Mukesh just didn't really get it, even his alphabet was off, so we moved him to the lower class after lunch, but I feel really sorry for Raj and a bit bewildered about what to do. She really struggles but tries hard as well and I think she's quite disappointed in herself. She rarely smiles like all the other kids as she always has this pained and worried expression on her face. I feel that Sarah may be right in that she carries a lot of the burden for her family. I really worry about what will happen for her in the future as I don't know enough about her and her family circumstances, but all I can do is try to help in the short time I have with her and hope for the best for her. I already fear leaving these kids as I'm just so worried about not knowing what will happen to them, and it's not like I can just track them down on Facebook in 5 years, as I could with kids I've tutored or taught swimming to back home. These children seriously have nothing except beautiful smiles and hearts. 

In the afternoon Claudia had mentioned that she wanted to get a saree so we went (with the Dutch girls) to the saree store. Claudia didn't buy one but somehow I ended up with another one - this time a nice greeny-yellow one with blue decorations. It was only about AUD$7 and very pretty but I really need to stop! Maybe I can turn them into curtains or throws back home, or maybe I can make sarees fashionable in Sydney. 

 On Wednesday night I don't think anything remarkable happened. Two other girls had come on the weekend - Annabel from London and Tinika from Holland, so I got to speak to them a little bit which was really nice. One thing fun that did happen was henna! I'd bought some tubes of henna paint for 10 rupees at the corner store a while ago and decided that due to boredom I'd go a bit crazy with it. I did heaps on my left hand and right foot, and Purni did a beautiful proper henna flower on my right hand. It's pretty cool, and the next day I kept going with my addiction, so there's henna all up my left forearm now. It looks a bit excessive but hey, when in India. Purni's convinced to finish my whole arm before I go. I'll have fully hektik sleeve. 

On Thursday we had ANOTHER holiday from work and in the theme of going Indian I'd promised Purni I'd get all dressed up in the morning. I wore my pink saree, a massive bindi and big earrings as Purni loves. It was funny because she gets so excited, plus I'm totally in love with the bright colours of Indian clothes. 

Later in the morning a few of the girls and I decided to visit the Monkey Temple just on the outskirts of Jaipur city. Elena, Claudia and the Dutch girls Sasha, Helma, Marjolijne, Belinde and I left the house and spent far too long haggling for rickshaws, but finally got in one and went on our way. Our rickshaws stopped outside a driveway to a fairly dead-looking temple on a road in the middle of nowhere and curiously we got out and started walking. We went into a door that said 'ADMINISTRATION' with two old men sitting at a desk, urging us to sit down. We asked to enter the monkey temple only to discover it was another kilometre up the road. We walked back to the rickshaws with our tails between our legs and very confused, and a few minutes later arrived at the actual Monkey Temple. 

I must admit that given past experiences I was a little nervous about putting myself willingly in a place renowned purely for its masses of monkeys, but it ended up...okay. 

I bought some peanuts from a smiley looking man outside the temple to feed to the monkeys, which ended up coming in useful. The space was like a little compound of temples set amongst mountains, though I didn't see many monkeys. Then about five minutes later they appeared from all angles - hundreds of them leaping through the temples and gardens, along the fences and all across the mountain faces (I wish I had a camera to capture this, but they blend too easily with the mountain rock). They seemed to all be headed towards a small building up the top where I think attendants were feeding them or something. We walked around for a while and came up to an area with a pool, where families were gathered and men were bathing in the holy water. To the side was a shrine and below there was a separate one for females, although there was only one young girl being bathed whereas there were many men of various ages in the other one. 

As I went to leave the shrine I looked around for my shoes. I couldn't see them anywhere until I spotted three monkeys sitting on top of them. Someone had left food near them and they weren't moving anywhere, so I grabbed the bag of peanuts of bought and threw them down the stairs. As they ran after them I quickly dashed after my thongs (flip flops) and all was well again. 

On our way out we went inside one of the temples and some people working there showed us a separate shrine which was nice, but Elena wasn't feeling great so we went back to our rickshaw and headed home. 

In the afternoon some of the girls went to the Amber Fort but I just relaxed and enjoyed having the day off, trying to sort through some of my thousands (literally) of photos. I really need to ease up on the Kodak moments. Elena and I went for a walk and I had some hilarious chats with Purni, and that night watched Slumdog Millionaire - a very different experience when you're in the same country.

The next day it was back to work. Sasha wasn't feeling great so I took most of the class but it went pretty well. They're doing well with addition and okay at multiplication, but we're getting there. It sucks that we don't have many volunteering days as there've been so many holidays - I'm really going to miss these kids. 

After lunch Lian and I had planned to visit a guru that some of the other girls had had a good experience with. I'm highly sceptical of spiritual stuff but nonetheless curious, plus it was free. Chloe came as she wanted to visit a spice shop she'd seen last time, so we shared a rickshaw. Our driver was super cute and attentive but got us thoroughly lost. When we finally arrived through the many narrow lanes we came to a jewellery shop and waited for the guru to come. Lian was looking for some jewellery as a wedding present for a friend and bought a bracelet. The 'guru' (who was not the stereotypical guru I was expecting) was dressed in a smart shirt, and was the owner of a successful jewellery business. While Lian was looking at various trinkets he asked if my mum has been a teacher or nurse, or someone who does social type work. I said no, and he told me he should be. I sat for a while nervously drinking chai wondering whether I would actually get a reading or if that was it, as he was quite mysterious in his mannerisms. Lian chose a bracelet and paid, and after processing he came to me and asked if he could help me with anything. I wasn't interested in jewellery, which his eyes seemed to already know, and he asked again. I started with 'well, I was wondering if-' and he just said 'follow me, close the door'. 

He asked for my left hand and hovered his over it, closing his eyes. I almost laughed but was quite nervous, and then he asked if I could feel something. There was a warm pulsing up my arm from my palm, though he hadn't touched me. When he opened his eyes he said 'wow' and began asking a few questions. He said a number of things, guessing my siblings and parents ages (they were about a year off and he just asked if I was sure, making me double guess if Rachel really is 23 or if Michael is 53 - though it sure wouldn't be the first time he's lied about his age). There were a number of things he said about me, and particularly about my mum, such as:
1) she works too hard and it hasn't been successful and rewarded her, particularly in the last 2.5 years
2) she's severely depressed and he's 100% sure, he'll give me something worth AUD$1000 if he can't prove it
3) she's had a third pregnancy that I didn't know about
4) she's attempted suicide
5) we're very very similar. 

I didn't object to these things as I am curious (and these 2, 3, 4 are things that some people may not know about their mothers), and for a moment I wondered if my mum has some mystery past. However, after thinking more and speaking to her, I'm sure that 1-4 are completely incorrect, in fact she's been more successful in the last two years than ever before. He may have something with 5 though, but I don't think it'd take a genius (or guru!) to figure that one out. He also said a few other things that got me thinking but I don't think much of it was super accurate, though some was. I think he does have some sort of gift but in general I'm very sceptical of these things so I'm very curious. Regardless, he said he wanted to see me again to confirm some things and asked for mums birthday, name and birthplace to do a 'horoscope chart' for her - though I feel like that sort of information would allow you to do an extensive Facebook search instead haha. 

As I was leaving he had a few customers waiting and wouldn't do Lian's reading, asking her to come next week, which understandably she wasn't super impressed about. Anyway, we went to a spice shop on the way home and dropped Chloe and Lian at the cinema as some of the girls were doing a 'Bollywood movie night' (I'm thinking of going next week!). I then went home, and the driver got a bit weird and wanted me to drive the rickshaw with him, but I didn't really want to do it while I was by myself as he was acting a bit strange. I did let him take a photo of us on his phone though because he had been very nice. 

When we were almost at home I saw Purnima walking so I hopped out and went to the shop with her, discovering it was paneer night - woohoo (the most acceptable version of Indian cheese, everyone gets pretty excited on paneer night as the vego diet sometimes makes me think I'm protein deprived). 

Another highlight for the night is that the boys that had been mentioned earlier arrived! We have two new guys: Ian from Taiwan and Croan (I actually forgot his name unfortunately but I remember it was something strange) from France. They're both really nice and Ian's currently travelling with us. 

Yesterday morning I woke up quite early (as usual) and pottered around before we had to leave at 8.30am for our 5-day Rajasthan adventure. First stop was Pushkar, which I think was about a 4 or 5 hour drive from Jaipur. Pushkar is a holy city in Rajasthan, which I'd heard a lot about in the past - though it seems now that it's just a bit of a tourist haven. Alcohol and meat are not allowed in the town, but these rules seem to bend a bit if you have enough money for a beer. There are also a variety of 'magic lassis' or 'special cakes' etc around. 

When we arrived at the hotel it seemed like a palace! It was atop a hill just outside the centre of town and had amazing views from all angles. We got pretty excited when we spied upon a pool, however closer inspection revealed that it was more for decoration and had no water in it! Regardless, we got set up in our room before we had to leave for the market and Annabel ordered a lime soda in the lobby, which literally took about 55 minutes to arrive because 'the lime and the soda are in separate bottles'. 

Anyway, we went down to the market/centre of town which was actually really cool. The Dutch girls, Elena and I got lunch at a restaurant where we had the whole roof to ourselves which was cool. We then looked around the markets, which sold a lot of beautiful jewellery (not great quality) among many other things. Elena and I walked for a few hours and out of nowhere stumbled across a big lake - certainly not what we'd expected in the middle of an isolated desert city surrounded by mountains. It was really cool, and here there were more bathing ghats (like at the monkey temple) where people bathe and leaving offerings. On our walk back up we got some fresh lime and mint soda and I bought two things - a lovely necklace (it already broke in my bag but is easily fixed) and a cheap ring. 

At around 5 we all met back at the bus to do a trek up to Naga Pahar (check name), which is basically a temple on top of a mountain in Pushkar with beautiful views of the city. The walk up was just lots of steps, but throughout the day I'd had a really bad headache and felt a bit nauseous, as had Dutch Sasha. At a bit over halfway Annabel, Helma, Sasha and I decided we didn't want to go further (I was just about ready to pull my eyeballs out) so we sat and they enjoyed the spectacular view while I laid on the goat pee-infused ground wanting to die. 

Eventually my headache eased and I also could enjoy the view, and although I really wanted to see the top (and now regret not persevering), I doubt I would've made it. Uphill walking and I don't mix. Soon the other girls came back down and we discovered that Annabel actually had been sitting in goat piss, and had a wet patch to prove it - rookie error thinking it was just sweat. Elena also told a story of how when she'd been up there enjoying the view she was confronted by 30 monkeys blocking her path back up, which just confirms the fact that monkeys are not our friends. 

When we got back down I got a panadol which helped, and we went back to the market for dinner. Annabel, Tinika, Ian and I went to a restaurant Annabel had seen in the lonely planet (though it was actually the wrong one). Funnily everyone writes that they're recommended - some even 'Recommended by all foreign country guide books!!' Regardless, I got some surprisingly good pasta and we met a really cool American girl who shared some interesting travel tales. 

After dinner we walked back to the car and I had a quick shower (well it was cold so I bathed myself under the tap) and went to bed. 

This morning we woke up for breakfast, which I must say was a kind of hilarious ordeal. When we arrived he gave us some very basic food and when others of our group sat at other tables it seemed to rotate. As I was about to grab a samosa he'd come and the basket off our table and take to the next, same with ketchup, toast and milk etc. It seems they only have one jug/bowl/basket for each. In general the whole hotel was pretty crappy and weird but it was funny. 

After breakfast we got in the car for the lengthy journey to Jaisalmer. Had lunch at a fancy restaurant and I've just been talking to Annabel all day, but as I mentioned earlier during this time I've conjured various musings. 

1) Perception of time:
Sometimes it feels like I can hardy remember Sydney and that it was forever ago, like the feelings of driving past streets and going to parties in Newtown And annandale are all nostalgic and not clearly distinct memories, but at the same if I went home in a week and my entire trip had been 2 months then it feels like I would've been in Sydney a week ago. 
It's also weird that the things I planned for so long have already occurred and become part of the past when I only saw them as the future for so long. I'm excited for Nepal, Europe etc but that means that six weeks in India will have already occurred - something that had just been my plans and dates in a diary for so long.

2) Cultural differences/basic expectations:
It's difficult to comprehend the vast differences in our realities. These children had completely different upbringings to me - it's normal to wake up and go into the desert and herd goats or go to the fields and pick wheat or whatever whereas for me you go to school and then netball training in your specific uniforms and then get bathed and sent to bed. Children in Vietnam are playing on the streets til 11pm onwards, Cambodia they farm for rice from ages of 7, sent to beg etc. I feel like witnessing so many cultural differences will make it difficult to return to Western society where it seems we've forgotten not about what we see as 'the other half' of the world, although it's actually the 'other 99%'. We make sweeping generalisations like 'everyone sends their kids to private school, everyone has an iPod, everyone has basic rights to privilege'. Because we do have it so easy and I think a lot of our problems (I am by no means excluded from this 'we' but rather I think I'm probably just using myself as the primary example in my case study) are made up in our heads. We see what 'everyone' else has except within our line of vision is only the other top 10% of the world. I like that my sense of reality has been reshaped but I worry about how this will effect my interactions when I get home. I fear becoming pretentious about my experiences because I am by no means acclimatised to Indian/SE Asian culture, and I still miss warm showers and not everything smelling like goat piss, but I just think its gonna piss me off when I'm back in a society that complains about pointless shit. But as a product of the society I was conditioned in, it seems to be kind of inherent in me to do so at times.

I want to be able to remind myself of this when I'm home so that I don't continue to take things for granted. And hopefully be able to show my friends and family and people I encounter how great we have it without sounding like a pretentious twat - 'well when I was in India everything was so much harder and you guys don't have the right to complain' because I really haven't struggled so much here, but more just been a witness to the struggle from my cushioned throne with plenty of western comforts. Plus it's not that I don't think people have a right to complain anyway, I just think they have a limited understanding of things outside Sydney/Western society and that this has just been conditioned by their experiences (or lack thereof).

Just to clarify I am completely not excluded from this. I would not willingly choose to live without my iPhone.

3) Hand holding:
Just something strange I've noticed - lots of men walking down the street hold hands. Even more than I've ever noticed in Sydney, and it's just interesting due to their general acute fear of homosexuality.

4) Sixth sense:
I think I have a sixth sense. Well not necessarily a sixth, but rather heightened senses. These senses are triggered by food packaging. I've discovered during my many hours on buses and planes that regardless of whether I'm staring out the window, listening to my iPod on full volume, or even sleeping, I always become instantly alert when I hear the crinkle of food packaging or smell something food-like. Sadly, this gift is actually a curse, as the majority of the time the food in question is not Oreos, and let's be honest that's all I'm really interested in.

Anyway, this has been another extremely long post so I'll end it here. I'm busy for the next few days travelling, so I'll write when I next get internet. It's also nice not to have a pointless existence that revolves entirely around Facebook.


Posted by georgiaellen 18:40 Archived in India Comments (0)

A weekend in Agra

sunny 28 °C

Goodmorning friends,

Once again it's been a few too many days since I've last posted and as usual I have lots and lots to update you all on. It's currently Wednesday morning and I'm just having breakfast before I head off to work. This weekend was pretty hectic as we began the first 'travel' segment of our 'work and travel' program with Sankalp.

Our destination for the weekend was Agra to see the magnificent Taj Mahal, however we didn't leave until after lunch so on Saturday morning a few girls and I decided to visit the Amer Fort - one of the most renowned tourist sites in Jaipur. At about 7.30 Elena, Elsbeth, Catherine, Sasha and I headed off in search of an autorickshaw, and after finally convincing one to take us at a reasonable price we set off. Elena and I sat in the boot enjoying all the immensely entertaining sites simple daily life on Jaipur's streets has to offer.

When we arrived I was surprised at how beautiful the fort was. I'm not normally all that big on forts and temples, but for some reason I really enjoyed my visit to Amer Fort. We arrived in the morning because before midday you can pay for an elephant ride up to the fort. Sasha, Elsbeth and Catherine decided to get the elephant rides but Elena and I felt like walking, so we made our way together. It's not too high up but the walk offered really pretty views of Jaipur City, and we were walking alongside the elephants (who due to their face painting I think may have been the ones showcased at the Elephant Festival).

We bought our tickets and walked around the enormous fort. It's hard to describe what I liked so much about it. The architecture was really beautiful- it almost echoed Moroccan style design, which I think is due to the Islamic influence on design hundreds of years ago. Also, the views were absolutely spectacular, as the fort is surrounded by small mountains, has a big lake below it, and views off the city across through the mountains. We didn't get hassled by locals as it was mainly full of just other tourists. There were also lots of little hidey holes and sneaky passages and rooms all throughout the fort. There were plenty of tourists but even so because the fort was so large and had so many intricate passageways most of the time you felt like you had your own secluded palace. Although - this did mean we struggled a bit trying to find our way out.

After losing ourselves for an hour or two we tried to find our way out, with little success. The security directed us to the exit which had market stalls and souvenir stores (of course) and to my surprise we stumbled across a snake charmer. Elena didn't appear to be keen on the cobra at all, but the charmers let me sit with them and play some music. I was even encouraged to touch the cobra and kiss it! Though when he offered to wrap it around me I decided I'd had enough. Still - I kissed a cobra!

On our way out of the palace Elena and I were approached by a young Indian man (pretty cute!) who asked where we were from. When he discovered that Elena was Spanish and I was learning he said his name was Carlos and began speaking Spanish to us - quite impressive really! He was pretty funny and offered to take us on his motorbike to the movies and to see real tigers in Jaipur, though I don't think Amita (volunteer house organiser) would like that and we had to let him down. By chance around this time we bumped into the other girls, who were bartering for a picture of them on the elephants - they hadn't even had a chance to enter the fort yet because they'd just spent their time on the elephant rides, but they were still pleased with the visit.

We had a bit of trouble arranging a rickshaw back as we were getting overcharged but finally got a driver and set off back home. The drive home was quite an experience, as this side of Jaipur had many more animals on the roads - buffalo, pigs, goats and a few chickens, as well as all their babies. He stopped to let me take photos many times which was great - though now I have far far too many photos to sort through. We also went past the Water Palace, which is right near the Amer Fort, and took photos - but it's actually in the middle of a lake and you cannot access it so it wasn't all that exciting.

When we got home we had an early lunch and quickly packed all our stuff for our trip to Agra. We had a really big group of twelve girls on this trip and split into two vans of six for the four-five hour drive to Agra. Our driver was the coolest dude ever and called himself G-Singh. I sat up in the front with my main man G-Singh and had some great chats with him about all different aspects of Indian culture and learnt a bit about the caste system. He has been a tourist driver for many years and even said that he was a driver for the princess many years ago - I couldn't quite figure out which one he was referring to but I think it was for Diana or Camilla or something. Anyway, he was a cool dude.

We stopped once along the way but finally arrived in Agra, which was just another big city. We were staying in the Crystal Inn, which is quite a fancy hotel, and I was pleased to see comfortable beds and Western toilets. Soon after arriving we headed off to the main markets in Agra. Within about five minutes of arriving we found out they were pretty crappy - maybe we were in the wrong area but it seemed like they'd taken us just to a residential area with a few shops. Anyway, we looked around and ended up visiting the Coffee Cafe Day shop (a name something like that - it's like a Gloria Jeans style chain coffee shop). Catherine and I shared a yummo choc brownie sundae (so good to have ice cream!) and then we all met back at the cars and went back to the hotel.

Most of the girls were keen to have dinner at the hotel as many were sceptical about local restaurants and had a fear of Delhi belly so we went downstairs to the restaurant. I finally ordered butter chicken - which was delicious as usual - and it was nice to have some meat after a week of vegetarian food. Nothing much else happened that night but Elena and I headed to our room and hung out for a while before heading to bed.

The next day we woke up bright and early at 5.30 as we wanted to see the sun rising at the Taj Mahal. We met our drivers and drove to the ticket area where they arranged our tickets, and then got a shuttle to the Taj just up the street. We had to wait a few minutes as there was some miscommunication about our guide and how to get in etc etc but finally all was settled and we arrived at the east gate. Unfortunately we quickly learned that the Taj doesn't open until 6.45 so having a sunrise was pretty unlikely, but we got some great masala tea while we waited in line. We passed the security screen (thankfully my phone wasn't taken as they're not allowed - but other girls had their mini-koalas confiscated which had been given as Australian souvenirs from Megan, as apparently flags aren't allowed).

We walked through the massive crowds through the north gate and soon our view of the Taj Mahal was unveiled. It is absolutely breathtaking and images on postcards do not do it justice. From whichever angle it basically looked like a mirage; as if we were just looking at a picture. Our guide told us some stories about it - it's actually a mausoleum, not a temple, which I did not know. It was built by the emperor Shah Jahan for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who was the one he loved most, and thus it is now known as a symbol for love. Both of their bodies rest in the basement in tombs decorated in star rubys, emeralds, diamonds etc, and there is an exact replica above it (which visitors can look at) but it is decorated with other stones rather than the expensive precious gems. Visitors cannot see the real tombs in the basement except on one or two days of the year where it is open for some sort of festival or something.

Our guide also taught us a bit about the history of the Taj Mahal in relation to British colonisation - the English took many of the precious diamonds and stones from the Taj Mahal which now rest in the museum in England. This story echoed very similar events in Myanmar and the altering of the Shwedagon Pagoda/other sites etc. He told us a few other little fun facts, like the fact that during WWII and the India-Pakistan war black scaffoldings were erected around the Taj Mahal so that it could not be bombed.

To the side of the Taj Mahal is a large mosque, which residents use on Fridays (the Taj is closed on this day). By residents, I mean that within the complex of the Taj Mahal, behind the North Gate lies the residency of the ancestors of the original builders of the Taj Mahal. They are up to the 17th generation, and they still live in the complex and maintain the area, and the whole place is closed to the public on Fridays for their use. However, I'm not sure exactly how many people live their and who they determined as ancestors, as around 20,000 people worked on building the Taj Mahal over 22 years of its construction - 6,000 of which apparently became blinded when chiseling the marble and another huge number apparently lost their fingers! Interestingly (I swear it'll be the last of my stupid facts about the Taj) it was built using similar methods as the pyramids (there were many influences from the Middle East in this era), where they used a massive ramp and animal power to carry the materials up high enough to build. It is truly magnificent architecture for its time.

Much of our time was just spent taking hundreds of pictures, as at almost every angle there was another beautiful thing to notice about the Taj. After going through (I took a couple of sneaky photos inside before a security guard reminded me this is not allowed) we slowly walked back to the entrance, but had to wait a while because Sasha and a few other girls wanted to take another few hundred pictures. Eventually we all found each other and on our way out spotted an eagle flying past, carrying a small helpless parrot - pretty amazing really. Our guide, who was a bit of a douchebag, was demanding tips and payments etc and we had to find our driver to organise it all, which took a while, but eventually I was reunited with G-Singh and we made our way back to the hotel for a much-needed breakfast.

Breakfast was awesome, as it was buffet-style continental and after sufficiently stuffing ourselves we went back to the room to rest until about 11am, when we departed for the Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort. Here we met with a new guide, Sahani, who is competing with G-Singh for the cutest Indian man in the world position. He called us all 'his daughters' and was very fatherly indeed, even doing magic tricks and moving people out of the way so we had the best views of things.

Interestingly, during the tour Sahani told us that he was a Sikh from Amritsar, but did not have long hair and a beard because 22 years ago he was attacked in Delhi at knifepoint (I didn't quite understand but I think by extremist Hindus). They broke his teeth and cut his head, and he pleaded with them not to kill his children, promising not to keep his Sikh dresscode. Now he only wears the religious bracelet.

The Red Fort was also built before the Taj Mahal by Akbar, Shah Jahan's grandfather. It's basically a walled city where the emperors lived, even with their own concubines quarters. It was pretty cool. The only other story I really remember about it is that Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's son, put Shah Jahan under house arrest (apparently because he spent too much money on the Taj Mahal or something..not sure if that's true). He was captivated in a room that had a view of the Taj Mahal.

The Fort itself was very nice and pretty, but there were a few monkeys sneaking around. Even more annoying were the masses of Indian men that followed us around taking pictures of us on their mobile phone. It happened a bit at the Taj Mahal, Elephant Festival and some other places, and being shameless I will often go up and tell them off. I just think it's disgusting and creepy and I find it really distracting as I know some strange Indian man will have photos of us forever and don't know what he'd do with them. At one point a family with women came up and were smiling and a funny little situation occurred where they took photos of us while we took photos of them, but it didn't have the creepy-old-Indian-man-feel about it.

At the end of the tour I saw a man feeding these small squirrell things that I've seen scampering around all over India, and he gave me some nuts and grains to feed them with which was fun. Then, sadly, we had to say goodbye to our dear papa Sahani and reunite with G-Singh, heading to McDonalds for some nutritious lunch and then going on our merry way to our next stop - Abhaneri.

Abhaneri is a small village closer to Jaipur than Agra, which is renowned pretty much only for the enormous stepping well there. Lian, Eve and some of the other girls who had done the trip before said it was one of their highlights - that they almost liked it as much as the Taj Mahal. Sadly, we did not quite share the same experience. We had a crappy guide - who was so bad it was funny - who just told us random irrelevant facts and then spoke to us about Bollywood dancing, the number twelve or put us on the phone to his wife. Also, we could not walk down the stepping well, which apparently the other girls did. I'm not sure how they did, but regardless it was boring though a nice drive, and eventually made our way back to Jaipur. We made a few friends across lanes of traffic, including a wedding party, and I saw the most beautiful sunset I've seen a while (very disappointed at my crappy camera) but soon we were home and I was glad to be back to Purnima's delicious cooking.

On Monday it was back to school. The kids were beautiful and quite well-behaved, and we had a new teacher for the week - Claudia, a German girl, who is sharing my room at the moment. After work we just hung out for a while, but in the evening I was hanging out with Elena and she got some awful news that he grandfather was very ill. Sadly, he passed away early yesterday morning very peacefully. She was very upset so yesterday I got the day off work to keep her company, and we just hung out and went for a walk and in the evening watched 21 Blackjack (really good) with some other people.

And here we are! I think that's all for now, but I'll speak with you soon! Tomorrow is a holiday (I've had a LOT of them!) and then this weekend we go on a big trip, so hopefully I'll be able to write before then.

Adios! xx

Posted by georgiaellen 18:33 Archived in India Comments (0)

What a week

Hello hello! I am feeling very guilty for not updating my blog all this time, as there has been so much on and I feel like there's not enough space in my memory to be able to relay it all in nice detail. So I guess all I can do now is give it a shot.

It's currently 6.30pm on Friday evening and I'm just waiting around for dinner after having a very lazy day. The past few days have been quite action packed, and it may be noteworthy that I am actually now completely purple. It has been Holi, which is a very important festival, particularly in Northern India, celebrating the new season. It is mainly characterised by the throwing of lots of brightly coloured powders, and everyone ends up looking amazing and beautiful. However, Pranay decided for our Holi celebrations that he would also bring out bucketloads of purple dye - hence, I know strongly resemble Violet Beauregarde after she eats the fancy chewing gum - "You're turning violet, Violet!".


My last post dates from Tuesday morning so I guess we'll start there. We went to school and of course had lots of fun teaching the kids. I feel that it's becoming a bit more productive and I'm looking forward to going back on Monday and making some more progress. As I mentioned before, I've been focusing on sh/ch/th/ee/oo/ph, and 'carrying numbers' in addition and subtraction. My kids have been understanding it pretty well so I'm really excited to go back and work on it more. Break was particularly fun. We didn't play any duck duck goose, but a few of the children decided to have a bit of a dance-off. Of course, Manisha was absolutely adorable and I've got some great video footage of her busting some moves, as well as Arti and some attention-loving kids from the class above. It was so much fun and they're absolutely crazy. I just love how happy these kids are and it's so so inspiring.

At about 12.45 Pranay showed up at the school and told us we'd be finishing early, and we were all to get in a circle. (Sidenote: it's funny how Asha and all the students suddenly change when Pranay shows up - it's clear that he's the boss. There's kind of a weird hierarchy thing that I've noticed and been told about. The only thing I really worry about is the learning consequences for the kids, but anyway that's another story). He gave each of us all a samosa and cookie each and we had a nice little feast together to celebrate holi. But that was just the beginning! He the passed each of the teachers a bag of coloured powder and all the kids went absolutely MENTAL - and I must say, so did I. It was so much fun! I can't really describe it properly unless you try holi yourself, but basically you just run around smearing different colours all over peoples faces and clothes in a very friendly way. It's pretty hilarious, especially with the kids. Additionally, we'd been told at home that we wouldn't be able to leave the house on actual Holi day (Thursday) as it's quite dangerous and male-dominated, so I was really happy that we had this, as I was sceptical about the celebration we'd have at home and this definitely satisfied well beyond my Holi expectations. The only downside is that my new pretty pink kurta got caught in the firing line, but I think the colours quite nicely compliment the hot pink!

Once we were thoroughly covered we got in the auto-rickshaw back home and surprised everyone at lunch with our brightly covered faces. Some people washed it off but I was certainly in no rush to get rid of my colourful new look - personally I think I was pretty sexy ;). I wish we could replace foundation powder with Holi powder! We had some lunch and later in the afternoon a bunch of us went for a walk in search of sarees. We still hadn't got rid of our 'new look', and Sasha and I were definitely the worst off, so we got a bit of attention but all in a lovely 'Happy Holi!' kind of theme. We found a saree shop and Sasha and I tried on many. As you can guess, I settled on hot pink. I paid about $9 for it, which I know I could get cheaper at the market, but I really love it - and in the end it's $9! Sasha got a rusty red colour which looks really good on her too, but we have to get the shirts tailored at some point.

We continued to walk through the streets (many more funny looks and 'Happy Holi's' were exchanged along with some 'strange Western tourists' glances) and eventually made our way home for dinner. We got back, had dinner, and I don't think much else for the night. I hadn't felt too well so I went to bed pretty early and caught up on some sleep.

The next day, Wednesday, I woke up very early and couldn't get back to sleep. Lian (who is from New Hampshire) normally wakes up quite early too so I've become friends with her, and she's really cool. I bummed around and looked at travel options for a while until about mid-morning when I heard squeals from upstairs and girls crying 'there are monkeys on the roof!!!'. Excitedly, I bounced up the stairs to see what was going on to see a freaked out Catherine and Elena (who was in her bra and pyjama shorts haha)! They had been sunbathing on the roof when Catherine, who was getting up to go to the bathroom, suddenly had a giant monkey clawing at her legs. They ran inside and told us their story but freaked out because their stuff was still on the roof. Curious about the 'cute little monkeys on the roof', I offered to go get Elena's iPhone and shoes and stuff, and went up onto the roof. As I was grabbing it I spied a cute little monkey behind the water tank and thought 'aww, I better get a photo on Elena's phone'. Bad move G. Suddenly two big-ass monkeys peered out and Papa was not happy. All of a sudden I had a full grown monkey sprinting towards me. Adrenalin kicked in and I pranced faster than I ever have before, jumping over onto our roof and straight into our house. I was literally shutting the door on this big angry monkey, and I don't doubt that if I had been a second slower I'd probably be getting tested for rabies right now and our house would be a pig sty from being rummaged by a big angry monkey! I stumbled in shaking and giggling my butt off, because hey it was seriously hilarious, but Catherine soon freaked out as I didn't have her phone in my pile of goodies. We came to the conclusion that the monkeys stole it - obviously not funny for her but hilarious for us. After about 10 minutes we were back on the roof, this time with about. 4 of us and armed with brooms and umbrellas as weapons. Luckily Catherine's phone was just hiding under a towel, and we retrieved it just as the baby monkey began to peer its cute little face out again. We all ran back inside and spent the rest of the morning laughing and trying to slow our heart beats.

After our pulses at a relatively safe pace and we'd filled our bellies with lunch we decided to go to Old City/Bapu Bazaar, which is considered one of the best shopping areas in India (I definitely can't confirm this and don't think it's true but it was probably the result of Chinese whispers in our house). Also, by this point another Australian girl named Megan (Canberra) joined the clan and she's lovely too. Anyway, we all got in rickshaws and headed to the markets. It was different to my expectation as it was streets and streets of stores rather than little market stalls. I didn't really want anything except kurtas for work. Many of them didn't have sleeves which was strange as they can't bare shoulders here, but we found out that they tailor sleeves in for you. I got one kurta made this way however unfortunately I tried it on and after he tailored it it no longer fit properly, so it's now Sasha's.

Anyway, after everyone had enough of the bazaar we met up again and headed to the Elephant Festival, which I was excited for due to my love of elephants. Our rickshaw ride there was eventful enough as Elena and I sat in the back and attracted the attention of a motorcyclist behind us who started doing tricks on his bike (hands free, standing up etc). It was pretty funny until he stopped at the same place as u and it was kind of awkward...

When we arrived at the polo grounds we were bombarded with touts and people selling puppets. I hadn't experienced this in a while as I haven't been in very touristy places, but it was funny. I began joking with one young guy who told me he was a magician 'America, Austria, South Africa, I'm famous'. I denied seeing his tricks as I didn't want to get roped into anything but when I said goodbye he asked for a kiss cos 'we friends, we best friends!' haha.

Inside the elephant festival were more white people than I've seen in a month. It was clearly a tourism raising event, and although I would've preferred a big lively street party with music and dancing and pretty elephants, it was still fun. In fact, it pretty much was pretty elephants surrounded by dancing and some music, but it was clearly just a show and put on for white tourists. They were painted beautifully and my personal fav was an elephant in jeans and a flanno, but the treatment of the giant creatures was pretty dire. There were also camels, ox and horses who didn't really want to be there, and one ridiculously sequinned-up horse who tried very hard to whinny and escape and cause a ruckus, only to be stupidly named by the MC the 'beautiful dancing horse'. The human performances were cool with many dancers and musicians, including a man playing the flute from his nose.

After the parade we went to look at all the elephants and were interrupted by a TV crew, who asked us what we thought of the parade. Never being one to be dishonest I said 'I thought it was really pretty though the treatment of the animals was questionable'. The interviewer was a little stumped but I couldn't help it because I just blurted it, but anyway maybe some day we'll be Indian TV stars!

We walked around for a while, and the general theme seemed to be Indian guys coming up to us and asking for photos of us (especially the blondes), and it was funny that the tables had turned. There was one creepy dude who followed us for about 20 minutes and eventually Elena and I went up and confronted him and he stopped.

After a couple of hours we left the polo ground to go to hypercity. On my way out I saw an ice cream vendor and decided it was just what I felt like. However as I was walking down the street unwrapping it a beggar woman with her baby decided it was just what she felt like too, and grabbed it out of my hand. Although shocked, I really didn't mind. If anything I felt insensitive for walking down the street unwrapping a $1 ice cream in front of these people who have nothing. When I got in our rickshaw she came up asking us for more money and I saw her little baby enjoying the chocolate ice cream all over his face and it was all completely worth it.

On our way home we stopped at hypercity to get some stuff, and afterwards I noticed several bonfires all over the streets. Apparently this is a pre-Holi thing, but I heard it's supposed to be at 3.30am and I'm not sure what they burn or what it represents.

At home we ate (as usual) and hung out, and I don't thinking anything too much more eventful occurred. I went to bed early again but slept terribly, and ate 3.30 there was definitely more commotion outside, but I was too tired to get up and check it out.

The next day, yesterday, was Holi! Happy Holi!

As usual, I woke up early and pottered around. However this morning Purni (I guess you could call her the housekeeper though she's 19) spoke to me, when she'd been a bit quiet with the new girls before. She asked me to walk to the shops with her which was fine, but I soon learnt it's because of the dogs on the way - which she is really scared of. They were just like all the other passive street dogs in Asia, but even at the shop she was scared of the funny looking sausage dog on a leash (which is a ridiculous excuse for a dog), so it's clear she just has a funny little fear. Anyway, it was great to get to speak to her a bit as she hadn't warned up to the newbies yet, and now I hope we'll be buds.

Amita and Pranay came at around 10.30 and all the girls got ready, signing each others t-shirts to commemorate Holi 2012 - though time proved this was pointless as nothing is visible after Holi action.

We went to the roof and started going mental. I'd initially thought it'd be pretty lame because we're all full grown women, but it was actually really fun and everyone looked great with the powder.

But then came the dye...

Pranay had a jug of what looked like black liquid which I thought would ruin my pretty powder, but he said it was purple so I let him smear a little. However these friendly little smears soon turned into a full-blown dye fight. Amita and Pranay also got attacked but we got the worst of it. Funnily, my contacts also got some in it, so with my purples-red pupils I looked truly freaky.

The fight went on for a while, and later on Pranay brought us some samosas and vodka. Sankalp only allows drinking on 3 occasions in the year, holi being one of them, and plenty of girls (mainly the ones who have been here a whole) took advantage of that. It was pretty funny seeing these purple mutant-looking things dancing around drunkenly.

After a few hours a few people began to realise how potent the dye was and come to terms with the fact that it may not be so easy to get off. A few (mainly the blondes...mainly Sasha...) were very very not cool with it, as it seemed to really latch on to the blonde pigment and their once golden locks were now a vibrant shade of fuscia. Hence, the last 24 hours have been spent googling and testing various hair treatments, including vinegar, bicarb and oil. Sasha is particularly not keen to have purple hair for her pictures at the Taj Mahal on Sunday, though personally I think it's pretty funny and hopefully one day she'll be able to look back and laugh at it all.

That evening I had a good conversation with a slightly inebriated Eve as well as exchanged some funny stories with Megan and Catherine. THEN, after dinner us newbies finally got to experience the real Purni - who is hilarious! I think when Pranay and Amita are around she is not allowed to talk to us, and sometimes I really don't like how she's treated (she sleeps on the floor downstairs), but when we do get to talk to her she's so funny!! She was talking about handsome men and her arranged marriage and all sorts of funny little things, but it's more just her hilarious mannerisms that I can't really explain.

After Purni's crazy chat I went to bed, and when I woke up today I basically just bummed around all day and spent about 20 million hours booking trains - Indian rail booking is the absolute bane of my existence.

I don't think much else happened today, except my roommate Rebecca from San Fran leaving, which is sad cos I really like her, although 3 more Dutch girls came for the week. One is in my room and they seem really nice.

Anyway, dinner's now long-gone and I am now in bed I'm dozing off as I type. Hopefully I didn't forget anything and I did I'll add it later.


Posted by georgiaellen 07:53 Comments (1)


First experiences volunteering at the street kids school in Jaipur

NB: This was from Tuesday morning but I haven't posted yet, so here it is a bit late.
Namaste! I've been meaning to write for a few days because there's been so much going on but I've just been too busy with meeting people and doing things that I haven't really had a chance, so here's a quick update.

It's currently Tuesday morning, my third day in the house, and I'm just relaxing after breakfast and waiting to get picked up to go to school. On Sunday morning we woke up quite early at the hostel and got going at about 7, getting into Jaipur around midday. The drive itself was awesome, and although the traffic is just as crazy as other parts of Asia - it's very different. They still use horns musically and don't really stick to designated lanes, but the main difference in India is the types of vehicles used. Less motorbikes in proportion to cars (though there are still plenty), and heaps of trucks! But these aren't regular trucks - everyone seems to brightly decorate their trucks, and they look more like hippy vans than transportation units. There are also lots of auto-rickshaws, which are similar to Thai tuk tuks, and are also often uniquely decorated with paintings and flowers. Then there's the animals. All along the roads are dogs, cows and camels! They are massive! Plus, monkeys! At one point we drove past a group of about 20 just sitting by the highway, eating from one of the various piles of garbage that line the streets.

When we got into Jaipur we went to the volunteer house - which is awesome! It's very big and spacious, with TV, bathrooms, and wifi! I met two of the girls, Sarah and Becca (NYC and San Fran), who are very nice - and then more came from the shops. Everyone here is female which I was surprised about but it's actually kinda fun - sort of sorority-like. Most of the girls here are American, a couple of Canadian, three Dutch and one Australian girl named Sasha. There seems to be a bit of a distinction between the old and the new girls, but that's okay because all of us newbies have been learning it all together (Elsabeth, Sasha's and Catherine). We all just hung out in the afternoon, and at around 5 the three of us (Sasha and Catherine) had orientation with Amita. There seem to be a LOT of rules here, but I think all in all it's okay, and I definitely feel very safe here. She took us for a bit of a walk and we found an ATM and generally it's pretty good. An hour or so later we all had dinner (which are really nice vegetarian meals) and one of the girls, Eve, had bought her favourite Bollywood movie 'I hate luv stories', which was rather entertaining - though the disc scratched and we haven't finished it yet. It's pretty hilarious though. (Aussie) Sasha and I, who are sharing a class, got to have a good chat with Sarah, who's been teaching at the street school for a month or two already. It sounds fun but slightly difficult as the teacher there tries to encourage rote learning.

The next morning I woke up really early and pottered around eating lots of cereal. Eventually it got to 9.30 and we left for the school. As we were driving there we went past the slums which they lived in, which was pretty amazing...they're basically living in cardboard boxes.
As we arrived the kids ran up to us to shake our hands and I pretty much instantly fell in love. In the morning their teacher, Asha, gets them all in three or four lines and they do their prayers, which is amazing. We then go to class. The school is basically a tiny tiny building with two small rooms. There are three classes which depend mainly on age/ability, and Sasha and I are sharing the middle class. Sarah's older class has one room, and our class and the little kids class shares the other room. It's a tight squeeze but quite cosy.

We have seven students - Rahul (8), Arti (8), Mukesh (8), Sangeeta (7), Rahul (6), Laxmi (6) and Manisha (5) - who is the cutest little bubba ever. They're all very lovely and beautiful and I'm so happy that I'm doing this program. In the morning session 10-11.30 we taught English, basically just going through the alphabet and spelling three words from each letter. It was clear that they had rote learnt three specific words for each letter, so Sasha and I decided our focus for the month will be phonetics - how the alphabet sounds as well as sh/th/ch/oo/ee, so that hopefully they can see most words and sound them out to read. We then have a half an hour break til 12, where we played duck duck goose, and from 12-1 did maths, where we faced similar rote learning issues. We split our class of 7 into two groups, and I took the three higher kids, but was told by Asha that 'in India we only learn up to 10 times tables' as opposed to the 12 I was trying to teach them. It's pretty stupid but the teaching methods of Sankalp just have a specific curriculum that focuses on rote learning rather than thinking, but all in all it's not difficult to overcome.

At 1 class is over and we got in the car back home for lunch. I finally met Elena, who is a Spanish girl that I'd connected with on Facebook via the Sankalp page, who seems really cool. At around 3.30 Catherine, Sasha and Elsbeth returned from the government school program and we all decided to have our first 'Hypercity' adventure. It's basically a giant mall - but one of the strangest I've ever been to. It's very big and you need to be security searched to enter, but half of the levels are empty, while the other levels have stores like Esprit, Adidas and United Colours of Benetton - yet very few shoppers to be able to afford items from these places. The food court also has a weird system where you have to go to a desk to put money on a card, purchase your item with it, then go back to the desk to refund your change. Yet the food court is virtually empty so it's not time saving at all!

Downstairs is the Hypercity store, which is kind of like K-mart, but they sell fresh food produce as well. I changed some money and bought some breakfast food and Cadbury (SO relieved they sell it! I've been deprived of good chocolate and ice cream for a month!). We also all had to buy kurta's for work, which is like an Indian tunic that most women wear. I've been obsessed with all the amazing bright colours I see in the streets here and so I opted for a magnificent hot pink kurta - a colour I would rarely wear in Sydney. It's strange but I just can't resist the amazing colours here and it would seem strange to wear anything BUT hot pink.
We got an auto-rickshaw home and had dinner with everyone, meeting a few more people. I've spoken with a few girls about some possible travel plans for after the program as well which could be nice - I'd love to go to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh and my flight from Nepal has been cancelled, so maybe that's a possibility. I guess only time will tell!

Later that night Aussie Sasha, Elsbeth and I sat on the roof for a few hours chatting which was really fun - until bed time. They're staying in the house next door so I went to let them out, but the door was locked from the outside. We tried to knock on their back bathroom door but no one would wake up and eventually they resigned themselves to sleeping on our wooden couch. I don't think they were too stoked about that, and didn't have a great sleep - but we felt like true wankers the next day when we learnt the door wasn't even locked but just a bit stiff! Anyway, I'm sure it's just the first to come of many more silly stories in a house full of silly girls.

Anyway, I have to go off to school now so I'll update in the next couple of days. The elephant festival and holi are in the next few days so we have no school, hopefully it'll be very nice and festive!

Posted by georgiaellen 04:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

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