I kept meaning to summarize India. Fortunately my friend Ken did it for me. You can read it on his blog here. I’ve copied it with some edits and commentary. Note this is from Ken’s POV.
Ken: I make it to Peace Corps HQ and then I met up with Hotard and Jacob for our trip to India. I took off my winter coat and placed it with nice signage so I would have it when I came back to the land of the cold. Well, Jacob still had to go work at KIMEP so me and Hotard decided to get Pizza Hut and wait it out. So we got some delicious pizza (delicious in the relative sense that pizza here is terrible and Pizza Hut can be considered gourmet). We finish eating our feast and go to KIMEP to find Jacob and he’s still a little busy. So he then told us that he wasn’t ready yet to go to the airport. Me and Hotard decided to go find a beer. We are walking in Almaty and it’s only filled with expensive restaurants and what we want is a hole-in-the-wall type of place. (I TOLD KEN WE SHOULD SETTLE ON AN EXPENSIVE PLACE BECAUSE WE’D NEVER FIND A CHEAP BEER IN THAT NEIGHBORHOOD.) So as we’re walking, these old guys yell at us and we stop and decide to join them. It ends up being a club. Not a club as in the forms of night, strip, or dancing; but, in fact, a clubhouse. These old dudes meet every Saturday for drinks. They work in a variety of ministries in the government and also as professors at universities. Most spoke English. (REALLY? LIKE TWO GUYS SPOKE ENGLISH. THE OTHERS SPOKE RUSSIAN. AND ONE KEPT ASKING IN KAZAKH WHY WE WEREN’T ALL SPEAKING RUSSIAN.) We chatted, they gave us beer. Success. Then we got Jacob and went to the airport. We sat around. Some other volunteers that were COSing were there. The plane was ready and we took off. They played a Sandra Bullock movie on the plane. The Proposal. We ate some food. The flight was only 3.5 hours and the time zone change was only 30 minutes. Not bad. We get to India and apparently I don’t look like the photographs on any of my IDs so they don’t want to let me in but they do eventually.
The cab takes about 45 minutes to get to South Extension Part-2 of Delhi. The land of the Wetherbys. There is a new girl volunteer who I have not met and her parents live in Delhi. They are white, not Indian. They said we can stay there. We said ‘okay’. We arrive and their servant makes us chilli which is one of my favorites so the trip starts out fine. It’s late though and we eventually get to bed. We wake up and explore Delhi. Go to Red Fort, the mosque, Qutub Minar. We take photographs, goof around, etc. At night we went to McDonald’s where there is no beef or pork. Bummer. I had the Chicken Maharaja Mac. (BEST THING ON THE MENU. I TRIED THE WHOLE THING OVER TWO WEEKS.) We wake up and go off to Agra. It’s a dirty city with a bunch of asses that try to take your money and overcharge you. We find our guest house and then go and explore. We walk to Agra Fort and then go in and check it out. There are monkeys there. That’s cool. From the windows I see this big building in the distance; apparently it’s the Taj Mahal. Since it’s in the same town we decide to go there too. We get there eventually and it’s expensive so we have to think hard about going in. (BECAUSE KEN TOLD US NOT TO BUY THE VALUE PASS FOR THE FORT AND THE TAJ. THANKS KEN!)We decide we probably should, since it is the Taj Mahal. We go in. Lots of people. We take it in. There is an old American couple there ruining America’s rep. “Where do I take my shoes off? WHAT, I’m desecrating the Taj Mahal?!” “You take sleeper trains?! I heard its infested with rats.” That sums them up. The sun sets. We take photos and chill out. Then they tell us we must leave, the sun is down. So we walk around get dinner and then bed. I wake up at like 3 am and vomit for 5 minutes and then go back to bed. No one heard it, so that means it didn’t happen, right? (FIRST I’D HEARD ABOUT IT.) I feel better by the next night so no big deal. That full day we spend on the train. 26 hours to Mumbai. We meet people. They tell us the fun things to do: “ride the train in rush hour”… “go to the water park” …lots of great advice. (RIDING THE TRAIN AT RUSH HOUR WAS INTERESTING. AND CAN ANYONE TELL ME DO YOU REALLY HAVE TO PAY FOR THE TRAIN IN MUMBAI?) Then they tell us that the number one threat to global peace is China and that GW Bush created swine flu and controls the Tamiflu company to make lots of money.
Mumbai! It’s big. More people live there than in Kazakhstan. For some strange reason it’s raining when we arrive. But it’s after monsoon season. What’s the deal? Oh, cyclone! We should’ve checked the weather or just assumed that hurricane like storms go to cities WE plan on going to. Well, everything gets closed, schools get cancelled, etc. We walk around, split up, (KEN ABANDONS US AND WE SPEND HOURS LOOKING FOR HIM. WE TELL A GOVERNMENT TOURIST AGENT WE LOST OUR FRIEND WITH THE MAP AND WE NEED A NEW MAP. SHE SAID SHE’D WANT TO FIND HER FRIEND. WE JUST WANTED A MAP.) the wind isn’t too bad and I got to check some things out in the city and then the storm just missed us and everything was still closed so we didn’t know what to do. We walked some more and made it to a Jazz café that played grunge/thrash metal with a lead singer that looked like Indian Jesus. The next day we woke up and went around and decided to go on a slum tour. We went to Dharavi, the largest slum in India. In an area of 1.75 sq km, a total of 1 million people live and work. We got to check it out and saw how it was set up, how houses were, how sanitation was done, water supply, electricity, etc. The government actually helps out. It seems to be a lot worse to be out on the streets than in the slum. I don’t really think there was much crime in the slum, the people all had jobs that were set up for them to do various things. A recycling plant was in the slum. We couldn’t take pictures though so I got none for you. We visited a school there too. After this we went to the big ghat where the washing is done and walked to the beach. Watched the sunset. Got some bhel puri and snowballs. There was a manually powered ferris wheel on the beach that we decided to go on. It was by no means safe but it was by all means fun. (I DISAGREE. COMPLETELY SAFE. WE WATCHED IT FOR AT LEAST FIVE MINUTES AND SAW NO ONE INJURED.)We eventually make our way back more and go to the movies to see a Bollywood flick called London Dreams that portrayed England as the land of drug users, alcoholics, and sluts. Not bad. Next day, we went to Elephanta Island. The boat ride was an hour each way and both ways we met interesting people. To there we met 2 women from Spain. From there we met this dude from America that was in the Peace Corps in the Marshall Islands in 68-69 to escape from Vietnam and ran a coconut farm. The island had old Hindu rock caves with carvings in them. They were pretty tite. Lots of monkeys roamed the island. We came back and got our bus ticket for the next day and went to a modern mall, got some food in downtown Mumbai and walked around another district. That was our night for Mumbai clubbing. We got to club Redlight too early and waited outside. If there were Indian strippers then this would be a different story. So we chill then go in the club. It’s very expensive. It gets packed with people too. We dance big though and it’s all good. Indians don’t dance anywhere near as big as me and Jacob so that was a letdown and Hotard only does Bollywood dancing so that balanced it out at least. In case none of you know, Jacob is a professional dancer. He looks good on the dance floor. (JACOB WAS BOUGHT DRINKS BY THE BACHELORETTE PARTY.) We left late and went to bed, woke up and made our way to the bus station. (SAGAR SOLD US OUR TICKETS. I LOST THEM. BUT KEN HANDLED THE GUY ON THE BUS. IN TARAZ, WE DON’T GET BUS TICKETS.) Our ride finally left around noon and it took like 3 hours to get out of the city because it went forever. (THE BUS DROVE AROUND MUMBAI UNTIL IT WAS FULL. HAVING PEOPLE MEET AT ONE CENTRAL LOCATION DOES’T MAKE SENSE MAYBE.) The bus arrived the next morning in Udaipur at like 5am. The bus ride involved us eating peanut butter and oreos, playing lots of rummy 10,000, and sitting inside a small compartment on the second level that flung our bodies around every turn and threatened to throw us out the window to our deaths. But it was efficient. We got to Udaipur, cheaply.
Udaipur! Apparently it’s one of the most romantic cities in India. Perfect for three guys to go to together. We get there at 5am, like I mentioned in the previous paragraph. We decide to walk to the center of town and it’s quiet and not crazy. Eventually we decide to meet this guy Jai who Hotard met on the internet (COUCHSURFING) at his abandoned hotel where his family has lived since they were the official astrologers for the Raja here for hundreds of years. The hotel is abandoned because he married down in caste and his family wouldn’t let him continue to run it. But we were able to stay there. Eventually the sun rises and I get some banana bread at the local German bakery and we go off to the city palace to explore it and check out things there. We spend some time there and go to a Hindu temple where this guy tells us a make believe story about the temple and then told us that James Bond worshipped there when he filmed Octopussy which is completely untrue. (THIS IS ALSO UNTRUE.) This is just one of many people in India that we caught lying to us. Well, we go to the real temple down the street and see a ceremony and then chill after lunch time and go to the mountain and climb it. At the top is the monsoon palace which overlooks the town and the lake, etc. We get to the top and we’re all sweaty and wondering why everyone else isn’t. It’s because we were the only people to climb the mountain because we are too cheap to pay for a ride up (which also needed permission to enter the park, thus more money). We explore it and then the sunset comes and we watch it from the top of the mountain at the palace. We meet a group of Canadians that are doing a 2 week volunteer stint nearby and they offer to give us a ride back to the town so we don’t have to walk in the dark and that’s cool. So we go with them and get back to the abandoned hotel and get ready for dinner. We go to the first place that offers to play Octopussy for us. In case you don’t know, Udaipur is where the infamous Lake Palace is located and the site of Octopussy’s base. They still pride themselves on this fact, 30 years later (AND WHY SHOULDN’T THEY?), and we get tandoori chicken and watch the movie. I go out to take some photos at night of the Lake Palace and then we go to bed. The Lake Palace is now a hotel and we couldn’t go unless we felt like spending hundreds of dollars for the night or like only 100 for a meal. (WHICH THE KING HIMSELF SOMETIMES SERVES.) It’s a palace floating on a lake. We wake up and the next morning we walk around, visit a Hindu tank (NOT A COOL ARMY TANK, LIKE A WATER RESOVOIR, KEN’S IDEA-NOT INTERESTING), the park, watch kids play cricket and then get a picnic basket. We find a guy to drive us to the country to Tiger Lake where we heard we can go swimming. We are the only people there when we do make it there and apparently the lake is filled with crocodiles. This does not stop me or Hotard, but it does stop Jacob from swimming. We meet a local dude that jumps into the water with us a few times and chills and then we meet some foreigners right before we leave. Our picnic is delicious (EXCEPT FOR MY MANGO PICKLE RELISH, IT DOES NOT GO WITH PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY) and we spend the afternoon here in the peaceful countryside. We drive back through the small villages of India to Udaipur and pack our stuff up when we go to meet Vikram, another dude that Hotard met on the internet that planned on hanging out with us. This dude is basically the complete opposite of the previous, that being not sketchy and instead very welcoming. He supplies us with amazing chicken dinners (FIRST REALLY SPICY FOOD IN INDIA!) and takes us to his house in the suburbs that was really nice and we hung out then we went to the train station and took the overnight to Jaipur.
Jaipur! It’s like 6am time to wake up. We get off and walk around and there’s a hostel that is supposed to be okay so we walk there but everyone that works there is a total jerk so we leave and go to the place next door which was a thousand times better because we met a Russian couple that ended up feeding us one night and giving us Scotch. But I’m jumping ahead. So we get our room and then go to the old city, which claims to be pink but is more of a burnt sienna in real life. We walk around, shop, see the observatory that claims to have the largest sundial (IT WAS HUGE). We go to Monkey Temple and see monkeys battle and hang out and eat food and then saw another movie at Asia’s nicest movie theater according to everyone in India. A guy there tried to recruit us to smuggle gems to America and I tried explaining that I don’t live in America but he didn’t believe me. The movie had a great scene in which the guy goes undercover to save his secret girlfriend by disguising himself in a burka and everyone thinks he’s a girl. (PREM SOMETHING OR OTHER WAS THE NAME OF THE MOVIE.) The next morning we went to Amber and went to the fort, Jacob and Hotard rode the elephant to it. We explored it without a guide and then some dude that I called out on being a liar said I couldn’t go into the section I wanted to go into so I lost him in the maze of tunnels in the fortress and then I explored it anyway. (I THINK THAT GUY LIVED IN THAT SECTION.) In retrospect I think he wasn’t lying but it’s not like I saw anything like the temple of doom type stuff with Thuggee priests ripping out hearts in the back rooms. We got lunch for 3 cents (15 CENTS) and then Jacob left to go shopping and to McDonald’s and me and Hotard decided to see the other fortress, Jaigarh, that we didn’t know how to enter. So we thought the only obvious way to get to it was by climbing the mountain it was on. We climbed the mountain and got to the big outer walls and skirted them to a gate that showed where the real gate and road was that everyone else took. But the mountain was more of an adventure. Then we took a wrong turn, climbed the outer walls and had to skirt the inner walls and cliffs because we were too stubborn to go back down and around. We eventually made it inside to where the world’s largest cannon on wheels is located. It was fired once for a practice shot and hit something 22 miles away. We met a Polish/British dude that was lost(he was going to Thailand by plane from England and ended up in Nepal and climbed mountains and is now in India, almost in Thailand –at least it’s Asia). We chilled and made our way down and onto the bus with the locals. We met local university students that wanted to teach us curse words in Rajasthani and Hindi. After the ride we split up from them and met the Russians. (THEY FED US RAW CHICKEN THAT WAS DELICIOUS. JACOB AND I ATE CAUTIOUSLY. KEN CONSUMED ALL OF IT.) The next day we left back to Delhi.
Delhi, the sequel! We went to some markets then met another person Hotard knows because he’s secretly Indian and Rusty met up with us too. We went to a “coffee house” which was just a very fancy restaurant we would never be able to afford if it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers. It’s been 3 months since I last saw Rusty in Kazakhstan and now he was hairy and poor and leaving back to America the next day. So he got to eat and he survived to America. He made it overland from Kaz to India, but the long way through all of Asia, it was cool we got to meet up again. We had amazing food and beer and wine and beetle leaves and other things. The good doctor that treated us then invited us to his nephew’s bachelor party-esque family get together that night. Of course we decided to go. So we (ME AND KEN, JACOB WANTED TO STAY HOME) go and get more food and got henna (JACOB DIDN’T GET HENNA) and we danced with the family and had no idea what was happening but it was all good. We got back late and slept and then woke up and visited the Gandhi memorial and it was calm and peaceful, a good way to end the trip. We walked to the Tibetan market and then made our way back by conquering the Delhi city bus system and eating curry chicken and leaving the Wetherbys for the airport. (THERE WAS ANOTHER MCDONALD’S IN HERE. AnD SUBWAY AT THE AIRPORT.) Fsyo. We got back to Kaz at like 330 and got a ride from Jacob’s friend to the office. We planned on going right to sleep but I noticed my coat wasn’t there. I mentioned my jacket earlier. Well, it’s cold in Kaz so I needed it. After sleuthing all morning I learned that one of the RMs donated it to charity. It had my keys in it which was not good. Well I was cold but Kevin quit PC that day and gave me his coat and he went to America and I travelled back to the cold northern steppe. (the jacket story was longer and more popular but I just got annoyed telling it so much, I heard such rumors as me wearing women’s clothes to various other things that made it better too) (HE WAS GOING TO TAKE A WOMAN’S COAT. THAT IS A FACT.)
Me: So that was India. For the most part. We had a lot more McDonald’s than that indicates. And a lot more people trying to sell us things. It doesn’t cover autorickshaws either. But it’s pretty comprehensive. Namaste.